Looking For The Awesome – 26. The Animated Artist

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

THE ANIMATED ARTIST

If Jack’s optimism and dreams were shattered by the downfall of the Lord of Light production, then a whole generation’s faith and hope died on a dreary Dec. day in 1980. David Mark Chapman assassinated John Lennon in front of the Dakota mansion where Lennon lived with his wife Yoko Ono. Lennon had been the driving force behind the skiffle band that became the Beatles, and a half of the greatest songwriting team in history. He was also known as the passion and wit behind the cultural eruption of the 60-70’s, and his death ended the Love generation. The two teams most responsible for the culture explosion of the 60’s and 70’s were now irrevocably split- never to be put together. One by decision, one by murder most foul.

A small aside:

“Did you know Stan Lee initially wanted to call Marvel’s original and still greatest creation the FF, “The Fabulous Four”? No kidding, everything that we know today as Marvel Comics might have been built on a flamboyantly gay epithet if then-publisher Martin Goodman had not prevailed and made Stan change it to The Fantastic Four. And so it fell to John and Paul and George and Ringo, who hit world culture at the same time as Reed and Sue and Johnny and Ben, to be known as “The Fab Four.”

Haven’t a clue if true, but it’s the quirky kind of stuff you accumulate when researching history.

Totally apropos of nothing a research organization asked

Which team made the greater contribution to their field?

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

63%

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

37%

Jack’s new animation job had some immediate benefits. He was able to work on large scale boards, which helped his vision immensely, plus the people who he worked with were in awe of his history and talent. He was the essence of an idea man, no longer restricted by having to work up every little detail, or backgrounds, he was simply throwing out ideas- something he had done all his life.

Jim Woodring an award winning illustrator had just been hired by John Dorman to help out on storyboards. He met Jack Kirby and Jack took on a role as mentor for the young artist. Gil Kane also helped him out. Jim recalls;

“I worked with Jack Kirby and Gil Kane. During post production season my job was to wait for Jack Kirby to come in with a thick stack of crescent board tucked under his arm on which he had drawn anything which came into his mind in terms of characters and possible show ideas. I’d ink them and watercolor them, and they’d be used to pitch shows. Kirby had no restraints put on him and the ideas he came up with, particularly towards the end of his tenure, were just completely psychotic off-the-wall aberrations.

They were unbelievably great. I have a photo of Kirby playing a Stratocaster. We had a skiffle band at the time, and Kirby came in one day and picked up an electric guitar, and started wind milling like Pete Townshend.”

Jim recalls a time of Jack telling his stories to the other artists. “He was fun to draw out in conversation because everything he said was unpredictable. I remember he told me a war story. He told me he was in Italy in WWII and that his division was being hemmed in by some Axis affiliate and they were all going to die, it was obvious. There was one little skiff that was reserved for the officers, so Kirby crawled through the mud to his commanding officer and he said, “Listen pal, I’m afraid I’m gonna get shot.” His CO said, “We’re all going to get shot!” And he said, “But I’m Jack Kirby.” The CO said, “Who?” “I’m Jack Kirby. I invented Captain America.” And the guy said, “Oh, really? Well look, that boat is supposed to be for me, but you take that and you row over to that village across the land and you’ll be safe.” So Jack got in the skiff and rowed across the water while the rest of his division get slaughtered over there. He crawled into a barn and peasant women brought him breadsticks and cold consommé. At least that’s how I remember him telling it.” Kirby told tales. Jim loves to tell of Kirby being chauffeured. “My understanding is that he couldn’t drive a car. He’d get behind the wheel of a car and he’d think he was in a jet plane or a rocket ship or something. That’s what [his wife] Roz told me. So he never drove.”

Roxie’s Raiders – Jack did hundreds of animation presentations

Gil Kane remembers;

“He wasn’t driving at that point anymore, so Roz always came in with him. They’d come in once or twice a week to deliver an assignment and pick another one up. It was like a freelance job only he was on salary. When I got there, he and I were both working on presentation boards-20″ x 30″-which for me was an experience because I had never worked that size before. And I would see Jack’s stuff come in. His penciling was very impressive; it was very black-&-white. But he would hand in six boards and two or three were just not up to his usual level–wheels would be out of perspective and little things you wouldn’t expect from Jack. Maybe it was his eyesight or his age, I don’t know, but when he succeeded it would be absolutely wonderful. In fact, I wanted to steal one of the boards-they had all this stuff standing around there that they weren’t able to use, and I figured that no one was going to miss one of ’em! But I never got the opportunity to take one of his good pencils that was a homerun, right over the fence.”

“Jack was a natural-and he was a natural early on before the wall hit him. I thought that in the early ’40s, he was just about the best guy around. He had a narrative style that was way beyond Lou Fine or any of these guys. On top of that, he really knew enough about drawing and everything so that there was simply no upgrading him. He was just excellent. It was priceless to me to find Jack Kirby’s work in the “Black Owl” and the eight or nine issues of Blue Bolt, then the early Captain America, the early “Guardian.” In fact, I love the first issue of “Manhunter”-it was such a glossy issue! Beautiful! Just perfect Jack. And Jack did a series of covers for DC before he went into the service that were excellent. But nobody can be king of the world forever.”

Writer Buzz Dixon has a unique viewpoint of Kirby working at Ruby-Spears;

“I was working at Ruby-Spears Productions with Steve Gerber. They had just sold a series called THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN and now the time had come to actually develop scripts & art for the show.

Steve told Joe he could recommend some comic book artists to help give the show a more dynamic feel than standard Saturday morning fare.  What he didn’t mention to me was who these artists would be. We had a production meeting; I came into the conference room early.  There was a little old man sitting there, talking to John Dorman (the head story board artist for the series).  I liked the old guy almost immediately:  He was the only person I’ve ever met whom I could say his eyes literally twinkled.

We started talking about the show, kicking around ideas before the meeting actually got started.  Steve and Joe and the rest of the writing team came in and, since I was already there & chatting with the old guy, everybody assumed we’d been introduced.  The meeting started without further fanfare. As we kicked ideas around, I was astonished at the imagination the old guy was showing.  Joe and Steve would throw out ideas, the rest of us would kick them around & play with them, then he would casually say something and boot that particular concept right into orbit. And he did this again and again and again, “plussing” every idea thrown out there, turning it around & inside out & making it better……and never taking credit for it. Quite the contrary:  He was unfailingly self-depreciating, always deferring to others, and shrugging off praise for his ideas & concepts with a sheepish grin.

It was a great meeting, one of the best & most creative ones I’ve ever been involved in, and when it ended the old guy left with his wife (who had to drive him everywhere since he was turning ideas over so much in his mind he would get distracted in traffic) to start working on the ideas we had discussed. I remember thinking at the time how glad I was somebody with his imagination would be working on the series; not only that, but I was particularly happy how well we had hit it off. He was, as they say in the biz, a good guy to have in the fox hole.

After he left, I drifted over to Steve’s office & commented on how much I liked the old guy.  “But who is he?” I asked.  “Nobody introduced us.” “That was Jack Kirby,” Steve said. “That was Jack Kirby?” — no, wait, that’s not the way I said it.  What I said was:

“THAT WAS JACK KIRBY ?!?!?”

Yes, Jack had finally relented to the family wishes that he no longer drove. Too many memories of cars on a curb, or pedestrians scattering as he mistakenly drove up on a sidewalk, or children left at school. Roz was now the official chauffeur. Sometimes Thib, sometimes Greg Theakston would drive Jack to shows. But Jack had the last laugh. He would let loose a huge guffaw telling a story about Roz behind the wheel. It seems that one day while Jack was working… well here’s his version, “I was at my table drawing a page lost in my imagination, when suddenly the wall to the living room explodes and showers the room with debris, followed by the family car, with Roz driving, crashing thru the garage wall into the room. It seems that she either mistook the accelerator for the brake or simply lost control while parking the car, but there she was all the way through the wall. She wasn’t harmed, but she was in shock and her pride was hurt. I laughed for days.”

Buzz also relates another anecdote that adds another layer to Jack Kirby, as well as showing the drive and resolve of the freelance artist.

“Jack also taught me something about fame. Because at the height of the Jack Kirby “God Save the King” kind of thing, when the Journal and I think Amazing Heroes did a big thing on him and Jack was the talk of the town, while all this was going on, we had gotten an assignment to do some character designs for a client. So Jack went and did some and I went and did some and some other people went and did some, and we all brought them in on Monday and Jack had done 15 or 20 drawings, naturally, and he was showing them all, and he showed his first. The guy looked at them, “Oh yeah, this stuff is great, this is great.” And then I was next and I brought my drawings out and the guy was looking through and he picked up one of my drawings and said, “Oh, this is good, I like this one.” And Jack took the drawing out of his hand and put one of his under the guy’s nose instead and said, “You don’t want his work — this is what you want! This is the real stuff! I learned my trade on the editor’s floor!” And what that means exactly, I don’t know. But what he meant to say was that he wasn’t some young upstart like me. And this is a guy who was having accolades dumped on him by the bucketful. He didn’t like the idea that this guy liked my drawings as well as his.”

So despite all the huzzahs coming his way, Jack remembered that he still needed to sell himself and his work in order to feed his family.

Gil Kane in rear next to Stan Lee and Will Eisner, Jack in front w/Steranko and Jerry Siegel

Jack’s time in animation was among the happiest of his life, he was respected by his bosses, admired by his peers, well paid, and even had a medical plan.

Buzz Dixon recalls:

“It was great working with Jack and Steve and John and all the other wonderful writers and artists on THUNDARR.  It was great working with him on other shows and projects.  The first comics I ever wrote professionally were drawn by Jack (Destroyer Duck–and my career has been going downhill ever since ) .  I came to know & love Jack and his wonderful wife Roz & am proud to count them among my friends”

Kirby on his own – Jim Woodring rescued this Kirby piece from Mr. T hell

In June of 1981, the film world was once again agog; this time for Stephen Spielberg’s new extravaganza. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a powerful adventure tale of an archaeologist searching for a lost mystical Biblical relic; one with the power to destroy evil. The film was set up to resemble the old serials where the hero gets into predicament after predicament until he succeeds in the end. The film featured constant cliffhangers that ratchet up the tension and kept the audience on the edge of their seats. But what may in appearance seem like the old Saturday serials actually more resembled the chapters of a comic book serial very much like the chapters of the Black Panther series that Kirby produced several years earlier. Instead of the Black Panther leading the archaeological team, it was Indiana Jones, a college professor, and instead of Solomon’s lost relic the search was for the Biblical lost Ark of the Covenant. The Black Panther was up against a rival crew seeking the idol as was Indiana and while Kirby added in an alien life form, Spielberg used the old standby Nazi’s to thwart Jones and his gang. Weaving through both the comic and the film was a lovely woman whose trust is a matter of question. Once again the team of Lucas and Spielberg seem to borrow heavily from Jack Kirby for their blockbusters. Yet nowhere is any credit or acknowledgement given to Jack for his inspiration.

Architects looking for Biblical items and many explosions just like Kirby

After the Copyright Law of 1978 was enacted, the companies slowly instituted policies that returned the original art back to the artists. Jack received back all the artwork from his second stint at Marvel. But the huge backload of older art was a different matter. Some of the artists were receiving their back stock, but Jack was not. Some even received Kirby art they had inked. Jack constantly asked Marvel when it would be coming, always to be told that it would be as soon as possible. Eventually Marvel stopped taking their calls. Marvel saw Kirby as a different problem altogether. After Joe Simon tried to get the rights to Captain America back, it seemed that the Marvel lawyers were scared that Jack Kirby might make a claim for all of his co-creations. So they refused to return any of Kirby’s old art unless he signed a special waiver where he would sign away all future rights to any of the creations, among other odious and onerous demands. And Marvel only promised to return 88 pages of Kirby’s art. The Kirby’s refused and hired a lawyer to intercede.

Kirby said,

“I’ve always worked in comics without giving anyone a bad time. I’ve been an artist, I’ve been a writer, I’ve been an editor, I’ve been a publisher- there isn’t anything about the comics that I don’t know. One thing I don’t know, though, is why I’m being treated like this by Marvel. I have a million hunches, but they may be wrong. All I know is that I own my drawings, but they got ‘em, and they know I own them. They know, and they’re holding them arbitrarily. In other words, they’re grabbers. They’ll grab a copyright, they’ll grab a drawing, and they’ll grab a script. They’re grabbers-that’s their policy.”

The early ‘80s were a relatively happy and peaceful time for the Kirbys, but the Comic industry was in turmoil. The old system of distributing comics was passé. In its place was what became known as the direct market system. The retailing of comics had switched from the mom and pop candy, and drug stores to specialty stores selling comic and comic related items. They bought their inventory on a deep discount, non-returnable basis. This meant that they kept whatever didn’t sell, and the publishers no longer worried about returns. It was a win-win situation. Hand in hand with this change was the growth of independent comic publishers, small timers who could sell their books directly to the shops. They were able to draw top artists by promising them ownership of their creations, and royalty payments for actual sales. The industry saw a small resurgence, and the top creators were happy with the competition and alternatives with Marvel and DC.

All was not well. In 1981, the genius of Wally Wood was extinguished. His body riddled with the effects of kidney trouble and other alcoholic byproducts were too painful, he placed a 44 pistol to his head and took his life. Jack noticed that his friends and cohorts were falling one by one and reflected on his own health. At last he had found a job with benefits. Too many of his partners were ending up broke and alone, or in hospitals without insurance. Reed Crandall, Carl Burgos, and Dick Briefer would soon join Wally. Ben Oda, the once vibrant, overworked letterer died at his table in 1984 doing what he loved, lettering a comic book, he was 69. He was once credited as the busiest letterer in comicdom.

My buddy Jeet Heer observed a pattern in Wood’s behavior:

“One way to think about Wood’s career is to realize that he followed a pattern common to commercial comic book artists of his era. Think of Kirby, Ditko, Kane, and Eisner (and maybe also John Stanley). All these cartoonists started off as journeymen artists, had a mid-life crisis which made them try to do more artistically ambitious work, but ended up being thwarted either by the limits of their talent or the constraints of marketplace.

Jack Kirby had his midlife crisis in the late 1960s. He already had a formidable body of work, arguably the best adventure cartooning ever done in the comic book form, running from the explosive patriotic bombast of the early Captain America to the mind-stretching cosmic adventures of the Fantastic Four and Thor. But by the late 1960s he was tired of playing second fiddle to that blowhardy glory-hound Stan Lee. So Kirby made his big break for DC and became the auteur behind the hugely ambitious Fourth World series. I’m very fond of the Fourth World series, and even enjoy the aspect of them that is most often mocked, Kirby’s peculiar writing style, which to my ears at least has a kind of vatic poetry. Be that as it may, DC comics wasn’t willing to give the series the support they deserved and the books were canceled mid-storyline, leaving us with the fragments of a promising epic. Kirby would go on doing fascinating work, but he never really got over the sting of losing the Fourth World. None of his subsequent work had the same crazy ambition as the Fourth World.”


It’s an interesting theory but the weakness I see is that I think Eisner continued at top production up until he died. I see no begrudging from him towards an impersonal business model. Even Jack found a successful way out of the cold. Ditko’s career was more of his own making, ignoring the marketplace. Sometimes I think using the top superstars of an industry to explain average behavior in that industry is unproductive. Using Alex Rodriguez’ 250 million dollar salary as an indictment of baseball falls flat. Likewise Will Eisner is probably not best case of a mid life crisis brought on by an unfeeling corporation.

Jack was glad to be away from Marvel, but even then Marvel reached out and shoved Jack’s nose in their messy business practices. It seems that Marvel wanted to publish a super sized edition of the Fantastic Four to acknowledge the twentieth anniversary. A friend had contacted Kirby to see if he would be interested in pitching in. Jack never hesitated and said no. John Byrne wanted to put a drawing of Kirby standing next to Stan Lee on the cover. Kirby reminded Marvel of their agreement to never use Kirby’s likeness to sell a comic. The cover was changed without an appearance of Lee and Kirby. Yet when the comic was released, on the cover is a huge blurb “An all-new FF Blockbuster by Stan and Jack Kirby!!” It seems that when Kirby refused, someone at Marvel got the great idea of taking the storyboards to an FF cartoon that Kirby had provided the artwork to, and Stan did the dialogue, and publish them in a comic like format and called it a new collaboration. Marvel got hold of the storyboards for a retelling of the first meeting of the FF and Dr. Doom, The storyboards were inked by a super-collection of Marvel’s top inkers. Jack had no idea of this abomination until a friend showed him the comic thinking Jack had worked on it. Jack was surprised and upset since he was neither paid for the artwork nor consented to the use of his art despite a special note in the book that thanked Jack Kirby for his consent and cooperation–typical Marvel hyperbole, but to Jack typical abuse and disrespect from Marvel.

The cover with the offending blurb. Notice the empty space next to Stan Lee – Chic Stone inked. Notice Herbie getting into the act

Jack was happy with his animation work; his hours allowed him more time to spoil the grandchildren. Tracy and Jeremy would sneak into the bed and wake up Granddad, who would then spend hours telling stories about the war, and an alien character called the Goozlebobber, who enchanted the young kids. They would join Jack at his table and draw for hours, with Grandpa giving them tips and encouragement. In the afternoons they would go for swims in the pool, and laugh at Jack’s bad jokes. Tracy would fight over who got to sleep on the big “mushy” yellow couch just outside of Kirby’s studio. She recalls, “In my early years, a pen would be in one hand, a pipe in the other. What a wonderful smell! I came into the studio, sat on a couch, quietly watching. “If I was lucky, he would take a break and tell me one of his amazing mystery or World War two stories. (in the style of Boy Commandos of course). Those were the nights I could stay awake forever, just listening and watching…He was the greatest storyteller a kid could ask for—and a great grandpa.” Jeremy would start going to the Cons and watch Granddad talk to the fans and the publishers. It seems the San Diego con had become comic central where the movers and shakers gathered to plot their next moves. It behooved all professionals to be seen there. It’s odd that San Diego would become the hub of an industry still located in New York, but this was where Kirby held court. The comic industry was changing, and Jack was there to help it along.

Animation greats Sid and Marty Kroft and Ruby/Spears in front of Kirby art – more animation art

One of the first of the small independents was a San Diego firm called Pacific Comics. It was owned by two brothers, Steve and Bill Schanes. They started with a small distributorship, and expanded into self-publishing. Their first thought was to Jack Kirby. The Schanes had known Kirby for awhile, mostly through Kirby’s yearly visit to the San Diego Comic Con. Steve Schanes remembers it well:

“I figured if you want to get people’s attention with a new comic book, who better to do it with than the King of Comics, Jack Kirby! We were already friends with Jack. We used to send him free copies of comics he’d drawn for other publishers because they never sent him any! So I just went ahead and called him on the phone, and he turned out to be a nice guy, completely accessible. . . . We negotiated a whole detailed publishing deal between the two of us. No middlemen.”

The negotiations called for a page rate plus .08 cents an issue and increased to .10 cents an issue if the book sold over 100,000 copies; just an incredible deal for someone used to simple page rate. Plus the brothers would assist Jack with international rights. The idea of owning the rights intrigued Jack and he always had a few projects laying around he could make fit.

In fact, he knew exactly which project to resurrect. Back in the late ‘70s Kirby had been approached by an entrepreneur about creating a new comic line called Kirby Comics. Jack had drawn up a 17 page issue called Captain Victory. Unfortunately the funding fell through and Jack was left with the unpublished pages.

Captain Victory

Jack then expanded the story into a 50 page novel, but couldn’t find any backers. For Pacific, Kirby split up the 50 pages into two issues, with some additional panels for continuity. Finally, Kirby would do what he wanted to do. To him, Captain Victory was a warning to us. We had become too complacent, and willing to welcome the visitors. He had told stories, and saw this concept from all directions, and now he was scared; “I think there is complacency now among the young. Sometimes we go overboard on trust.” He understood that any visitors to our Earth would be much more advanced than we were, and he feared if higher intelligence meant a better intelligence. Could life lose that innate aggressiveness and need to dominate. He saw that mankind certainly hadn’t evolved past the “hunter” stage. The story was another epic space fable about an alien life form trying to feed on Earth, when a group of interplanetary police come along to the rescue; a sort of space western. Captain Victory and His Galactic Rangers #1 was cover dated Nov. 1981. Jack even managed later to work in a back history that connected the character to Orion and Darkseid of the New Gods. The art was uneven due to the first two issues being drawn in the ‘70s with Mike Royer inks while the later issues were completely new, with Mike Thibodeaux’s inks. The two styles were very different; Thib had a very florid, flowery approach, very curvaceous, almost romantic. By issue #4 Jack’s Goozlebobber stories filled out the issues, also inked by Thibodeaux. When asked about Mike Thibodeaux, Kirby explained; He’s young, he’s good and he wants to do comics. People (at Pacific) are giving me a breaks, I give other people breaks. I feel that Mike should have his. I’ve never turned anyone down in my life.” “My religion is cooperation, not power.”

Where travels the Goozlebobber?

Mike Thibodeaux first met Jack in 1974 when he and a friend visited the Kirby’s at their home. Mike’s home life was far from ideal, and he found himself drawn to Jack’s comics and the Kirby’s kindness for refuge. Mike said that Jack became his guardian angel. Roz became his de-facto mother. Harry Slonaker would have been proud, a BBR member passing forward the ideals of the Boys Brotherhood Republic. They became friends and Jack was always helpful to Mike as he worked his way through college. Mike was doing some commercial work using airbrushes; Jack liked his touches and asked Mike to try it over a Thor drawing, the result became a treasured Kirby gift. When Mike Royer couldn’t do Captain Victory due to contractual commitments, Kirby asked Thib, as he was called, to ink them. Mike recalls those first pages;

“There were times I had to do one page in three days, and then near the end of the series there’d be six pages in one day, which I was not very good at. In the beginning he tried to get them to me on a regular basis. I think he was also working on other projects at the time, and that’s why he didn’t devote all his time to it. He was still working for Ruby-Spears, and he was always doing specialty pieces for people. He was always working!”

Mike Thibodeaux – Steve Oliff – Mike Royer

“The first issue of Captain Victory hit comic shops in August 1981, selling around 70,000 copies, ‘those were incredible numbers, right up there with Marvel and DC,” according to Steve Schanes. Within six months, circulation was up to 85,000 per issue, and the comic had been licensed for publication in seven foreign countries. The third issue of Captain Victory netted Kirby a $6000 royalty check, and Pacific’s publishing and distribution ventures together that year grossed about $1.2 million” according to an article in the San Diego Reader dated Aug, 19, 2004, titled Two Men and Their Comic Books.

Just as Jack was beginning Captain Victory #3, Steve Gerber, Kirby’s Thundarr compatriot at Ruby-Spears initiated a lawsuit against Marvel over the rights to a character named Howard the Duck. The suit was costly and Gerber was hurting.

Steve explained his reasoning in an interview with Gary Groth for Comics Journal;

“What disgusts me even more, though, is that I think the writers and artists have largely brought this on themselves.” “They don’t want to know about the business end of comics. They prefer to remain ignorant. They’ve allowed the publishers to convince them that they’re a bunch of no-talent bums surviving on the goodwill of the companies. Very few people in this industry really believe that their work has any artistic merit, or that it’s sale-able elsewhere. Or that they deserve more than they’re getting. You will actually hear them defend the publishers’ ownership of their creations, the low page rates, the cowardice of the companies to explore new markets. That’s why it’s startling when someone like Gil Kane or Neal Adams or Don McGregor or Barry Smith — or Steve Gerber — shoots his mouth off. People in the industry find it disturbing that one of their number might actually take his work seriously, take pride not only in being fast and dependable, but in the work itself.”

Some of his friends came up with an idea, why not create an all-star comic with the friends volunteering their services and Steve would get all the profit to help defray the legal costs.

Steve explained. “Jack and I had gotten to know each other pretty well, and I liked him very, very much, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. So I decided to approach the King of the Comics and ask him to draw a 20-page story for nothing! This is not something you do every day.” I was so terrified that I had to take Mark Evanier with me out to Jack’s house for moral support. ….. I sat there, pouring sweat, and explained about the lawsuit. Every time I started to hem and haw, Mark leaped in. And we explained to Jack what the lawsuit was all about, and that it involved Marvel, and it had to do with character ownership and creator’s rights. We went on for about an hour and a half about this, and finally we got around to the benefit comic book. I said, “I want to do this character called Destroyer Duck…

…I’ve got this idea for it. I…I.. I really want to..to…know whether you’d um…be willing to draw the book….(gulp)…for….nothing.” I just waited there with the silence hanging in the air, and Jack kind of rubbed his chin and said,” Yeah, sounds like fun.” Not even a semi-flinch. He got this weird smile on his face like he’d really enjoy sticking it to them, and then just said “yes”.

The book was called Destroyer Duck. Published by Eclipse Comics the first issue had a March, 1982 date. It was a satirical tale of a character held hostage by a large corporation and his best friend’s attempt to free him. The friend was Duke “Destroyer” Duck, a bad ass Punisher type in a furry feathered skin, and an orange beak. Kirby penciled the title story, the inking was done by Ruby-Spears artist Alfredo Alcala, in a florid style that didn’t quite mesh with Kirby’s hard edged pencils, but the finish was illustrative. Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones premiered a character named Groo in the back-up story.

Because it was by Gerber and Kirby, it was filled with deliciously bizarre satiric ideas and storylines. For instance: Woblina Strangelegs, A wacky ventriloquist-dummy-lady; Vulpa Packer, the Battle-Ax, who looks like the love child of DeSaad, and Granny Goodness. Holmes the lawyer, who looks like Matt Murdock, but wears sillier clothes. Cherrie Jubilee, a tough broad with a red orb for a helmet; Brad Cogburn and his army of clones, and more Those were just some of the characters! The whole things chock full of madness.

Kirby’s biting and experimental humor

Though it was planned as a one-shot, the book sold very well. After some prodding, Gerber continued the series with Kirby penciling the first five issues; being paid for the other four. The story was very funny, and very biting in its look at how large corporations trample everything in their path. Jack was also in a dispute with Marvel over original art return and his drawing seemed a little more pointed than usual. It was an angry series, despite the biting humor. Gerber explains:

“A good number of the jokes in the book are his. The “Grab it all, Own it all, Drain it all” slogan of Godcorp was his. The designs of the Godcorp complex were his and virtually all of the visual gags in that first issue.”

Jack explained further more philosophically;

“Steve is a very original kind of guy. A man who can make something out of a duck like he did can come up with something important. I think Steve is a fine writer.”

“And, even if it wasn’t Steve Gerber, I would still do the same thing. Because I feel that change has to be made. The comics may not be important to me, right now, but they are important. It’s important that all the media stay alive, so that the ordinary guy can get his chance, without having to pay some ugly price for what he wants to do. The industry could fight tooth and nail on that, and it could continue, but the chance that it could change is the important thing in pursuing Gerber’s case.”

A very mad book

Steve explained, in an interview;

TJKC: Did you get a sense that working on Destroyer Duck was kind of therapeutic for Jack?

SG: “Oh, absolutely! No question. It was like giving Marvel the raspberry for 20 pages. The whole idea of sticking this in their face was a major appeal of the book to Jack.” “It was one of the best experiences I ever had in comics, working on that book with him. He was one of the funniest and most talented human beings I ever met.”

Artist/satirist Scott Shaw reminisces about Kirby’s underlooked talent as a funny man.

“Most people tend to think of Jack Kirby in melodramatic superlatives. He’s been described as the ultimate comic book artist, a master’s master of graphic fiction, an incredibly talented creator of dynamic heroes, dramatic action and cosmic conflicts. Comics aficionados have dubbed him “King” Kirby (a title he wore with some discomfort), and have compared his work to that of Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Rockwell, among other artistic greats. He was, without a doubt, the single most imaginative individual ever to work in the field of comic books. He was equally comfortable working in any of the familiar comic book genres of super-heroics, romance, westerns, science fiction and war, among other dramatic themes. But Jack Kirby was also very funny as a writer, as an artist and as a person, and left behind a surprisingly large body of work to prove it.

One of the strangest paradoxes in comics is that most “straight” comic books (in such “realistic” genres as super-heroes, western, romance, war, etc.) are drawn in styles that actually bear almost no resemblance to truly realistic illustration! Yet, many fans (and even editors) of these comics turn up their noses at anything resembling the kind of humorous cartooning sometimes referred to within the business as “big-foot drawing.” In my estimation, Jack Kirby’s artwork somehow bridges this aesthetic gulf. Judging by life-drawings that he had done as a young man, Jack had always possessed a natural ability to work in a much more realistic style than that with which he is now usually associated. It appears that the exaggerated and dynamic anatomy, poses, design, composition and foreshortening that have become such a Kirby trademark may have been the result of a conscious aesthetic decision on Jack’s part.

One thing is certain, however; once he began his professional career (under a variety of pen names), no matter what the character or genre, whether the subject was serious or light-hearted, Jack Kirby could only draw like Jack Kirby and if humorous illustration could be described as an exaggeration of realistic art, then Jack Kirby’s humor work is nothing less than an even greater exaggeration of his normally exaggerated style!”

Lots of Destroyer Duck – even Frank Miller gets into the mix

Steve Gerber and inker non-pareil Alfredo Alcala

Buzz Dixon came on board towards the end of the run.

“Steve was suing Marvel at the time for possession of Howard the Duck. He had created a character and comic book called Destroyer Duck, which was among the first independent comics. Steve at one point was running into a little bit of scheduling problems, because he had too much on his plate at the time, and he asked me if I would write a short sequence just to help him get caught up in Destroyer Duck. So I wrote about a two-page fight scene between Destroyer Duck and a villain, I forget who the villain was. My first work in comics was illustrated by Jack Kirby!

Buzz went on to write the final 2 issues. By that time the case was over the character was absorbed into other titles that Gerber created. The book had run its course. Buzz always praises Jack Kirby,

“Jack was one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Just a great, great person, he and Roz were wonderful people. It was tons of fun.”

This next story starts way back in 1954. A young boy about 6 is out with his mother and comes upon a revolving comic rack and stares in fascination. On the rack are several of those new three-dimensional (3D) comics. He stares and rifles through the books. He shows his mother and asks if she will buy him one. He already has some comics so it’s not an unusual request. His mother looks and when she sees the EC 3D horror comics she blanches. Rather than the crime and gore, she picks out 3D Comics featuring Mighty Mouse, by St. Johns. The kid is spellbound; he had never seen anything like this. The amazing rodent is flying and jumping almost out of the book. This was an excellent choice. Originally created in 1942 as a movie short; Mighty Mouse was a parody of Superman.

He went through several mutations–beginning as Super Mouse– before becoming the mouse we all love. Mighty Mouse became the most popular of the many characters in Paul Terry’s studio. Not many could ever forget the stentorian operatic vocals of Mighty Mouse singing, ”Hereeee I come to save the dayyyyyy.” Opera and farce played a large part of Mighty’s oeuvre, even the constant villain; Oil Can Harry occasionally breaks into aria.

We have a hit

MM was a natural for comics with Timely producing a short run in 1946. St. John’s took over the license and started making comics in 1947 with Mighty Mouse soon their top selling book. It was no surprise that this character was chosen for their first 3D comic. Joe Kubert recalls;

“We produced two sample proofs with the 3-D effect, a panel of Tor and one of the Three Stooges. When we showed them to Archer St. John he flipped over the idea! We went to work on a Mighty Mouse book because St. John felt it would be the best vehicle for 3-D and get the best chance on the newsstands.”

The first book sold out. More were added. Mighty Mouse later became one of the earliest TV characters in 1955 when the studio was sold to CBS. The movies were just beginning to flood the market with 3D movies. Such great titles like Bwana Devil, It Came From Outer Space, and House of Wax, captivated the young man who became obsessed with the concept of 3D. One of his favorite comics was Captain 3D by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby-a wondrous example of the 3D concept. The 3D effect left Ray breathless. Young Ray Zone’s imagination and wonderment were on fire as he now searches out and collects any and everything he can find relating to 3D.

James Butterfield and his 3D video microscope

Ray came to this fascination as a consumer, but James Butterfield was deep into the nuts and bolts of the industry. Even as early as the 1950’s he was producing a 3D TV show down in Mexico. He invented several 3D set-ups to improve the quality of 3D pictures and films. In 1979, he started a new business called 3-D Video Corporation in North Hollywood. Ostensibly to transfer 50’s Movies into 3D films for TV showings, he also had plans for other 3D concepts. In 1981, he created 3D Cosmic Publications, a printing division of the parent 3-D corp. One of the first things he did was hire David Starkman for his sales team. A week or so later, he hired David’s wife, Susan Pinsky. It was a serendipitous 1976 visit to a garage sale that got their 3D spark going when they ventured upon an old View-Master. The View-Master was originally invented in the early 1900’s and first presented at the New York World’s Fair. It was a self-contained stereo viewing unit containing 7 pairs of stereoscopic pictures in a round reel that produced

Simply the best, bakelite and a designer’s dream

great 3D shots of scenic spots and entertainment shows. Marvel provided cells from their cartoons as photos for Stereo view. The 3D effect amazed them and they were instantly obsessed with the hobby. David and Susan joined the Stereo Club of So. California, they wrote a newsletter, and opened their own retail mail order business selling 3D paraphernalia to photographer’s, both amateurs, and professionals. At 3-D Video, David was put to work in the sales dept. selling 3D glasses and other trinkets to convenience stores and other outlets. But Susan was given another task. Mr. Butterfield asked her to gather and produce a 3D comic book that could be used as a primer and sales point for the 3D craze. He wanted this to be the best 3D comic ever. He envisioned this book to be sold at convenience stores with the accompanying glasses. This daunting task was the first attempt at a 3D comic in 25 some odd years and Susan decided she first needed a writer who understood 3D and possessed a writing style that could captivate the young readers. The young man from 1954 had now grown up into perhaps one of the most knowledgeable people on the concept of 3D. Ray was working at a large steel company in their art dept. On the side he was writing articles about 3D in various magazines.

From a 1989 interview, Ray recalls;

“I was writing articles freelance and had a couple of articles on 3D published. One was in the 11th edition of the (1981) Overstreet Price Guide and another, called Stereovisions, was in Fanfare Magazine. And that article was an attempt to create a single historic overview of all forms of 3D imaging, including photography, comics, holography, 3D movies, the whole thing. After that article appeared a lady named Susan Pinsky contacted me. She was employed by 3-D Video Corporation in North Hollywood, the company that was producing anaglyphic conversions of old 3D movies for television in 1982. She asked me to write a 3D comic book that would be a graphic history of 3D and hired me to create an original superhero that would be a vehicle to tell that history. After I hung up the phone talking with her, I jumped up and down for about an hour and a half.”

Ray already had a similar idea roiling around in his head. Until Susan had a workable script, she hadn’t decided on an artist. A couple weeks later, Ray gave her his script. Knowing his comic book history and remembering the great job on Captain 3D, Ray later suggested Susan get Jack Kirby to illustrate the book. She was happy, but when she showed James Butterfield the script he had some ideas of his own. He wanted his company and himself to play a role in the story so he rewrote the script and inserted himself in. Susan fought to keep all the historical items in the script. James and Susan finally hammered out the script and Susan set about finding Jack Kirby. This wasn’t too difficult as Jack was listed in the phonebook. Susan called up Jack, and told him a little about what she wanted. Jack shuddered thinking about the hassles making the earlier 3D book. Jack laughingly swore that even thinking about 3D comics caused him heart palpitations. Jack invited her up to his house where Jack and Roz charmed Susan with their graciousness and kindness. After hearing about the progress in technology, and what was needed, Jack quickly agreed and his salary and time was worked out. One good thing was that Susan was given no budget, she was told that whatever it cost; just charge it to the company. There was no dickering over his page rate, or unholy time schedules to work around. None of the usual comic book hassles. Jack was to do the work and turn it in as soon as possible.

Ray Zone

Ray enthused:

“A month later Susan Pinsky informed me that they had engaged Jack Kirby to illustrate my script. Then I was jumping up and down for about two days! I still can’t believe my incredible good fortune to have this absolute king of comic books illustrate my script. That was, and is still, just amazing to me. Back in the early days of 3D, in the 1950’s, he produced one of the finest 3D comics of them all, Captain 3D. I was amazed. I went to the president of the company, James F. Butterfield and told him I wanted to work there. He hired me to work in the 3D Cosmic Publications division, which was the print media side of the company. We produced the 3D Cosmic Poster, which was a preview of the comic and I worked on the creation of point-of-purchase displays and different aspects of the print media.

Jack was given the script plus a layout and asked to follow it as close as possible. For once Jack wouldn’t tear the script apart and rework the story to his own fashion. It was an easy job, only 17 pages plus a cover, bc and a poster for the stores. She had Jack Kirby supply the art for the glasses. He did at least 3 presentations before a choice was made. Mike Thibodeaux inked. The poster was actually printed in at least 2 versions, one for stores and another called 3D TV Cosmic poster which oddly credits Mike Royer as inker. Jack finished very quickly and turned the pages into Susan. Susan loved what he had done- not surprising since Jack’s natural style was a version of 3D drawing that he had perfected in his comic book work. He understood forced perspective and driving the action forward. Jack was also happy since he didn’t have to separate the bits into layers like they had in the 1950”s. With the artwork in hand, Susan hired a familiar face. The late Tony Alderson was also a member of the Stereo Club of Southern Calif. He was unemployed at the time, yet he was well versed in the 3D conversion process needed for the comic. Tony was a tall, lanky, mustachioed fellow, lovable but grouchy, given to answering any question with a negative response. Susan had learned that in talking with Tony a different approach was needed. She would ask every question in a reverse negative manner so when he said no, it actually meant yes. So rather than asking Tony if he wanted to work for 3-D Video, she asked if there was any reason he couldn’t work for 3-D Video. When he said no, she then asked him in her reverse manner. Is there any reason you can’t start tomorrow? Tony said no, and started right away. Ray Zone recalls;

“I first met Tony Alderson when I was hired to work at 3D Video Corporation in 1982 and it was Tony who converted Jack Kirby’s art to 3D in Battle for a Three Dimensional World. We have maintained an idiosyncratic dialogue with each other that incorporates Tony’s uniquely satirical slant on the vagaries of stereoscopic business practices.”

Tony explained the process he used.

“I take the drawing supplied me as the left image. I then simulate the right image by cutting apart copies of the drawing and reassembling them with the proper displacements to create retinal disparities when viewed.”

Director Arch Oboler of Bwana Devil by Susan Pinsky

Ray sent a letter to Joe Kubert, thanking him for his part in 3D history and inviting him to partner up for a project. Joe kindly begged off with a note.

“However; I’ve always felt that the 3D graphic process is a viable procedure, if coupled with a good story and art. As a gimmick, it has no longevity (as sadly proven through past experience.)

About the comic book, Joe included a little message.

“A cosmic-comic book, huh? Great! You couldn’t have made a better choice than Jack Kirby, whose work has a tendency to look 3D even when it’s flat. Please give Jack my fondest regards when you see or speak to him.”

A 3D comic is complicated; because of the labor intensity it is a timely process, even with a large crew such as at Harvey Comics in 1953. A regular monthly book is out of the question. It only works on stand alone issues that are not time related to other books. It cannot be made as a regular part of the publishing routine. It is also a costly job due to the time and physical labor needed to transfer. It would bankrupt a company trying to do too many 3D books at once. St. John Publishing had learned this lesson the hard way. They paid the artists twice the normal rate when working on 3D. Not every printer was equipped to meet the specific needs of 3D. It was also a fad that tended to die very quickly at the marketplace. But this was not a problem for 3D Video. It was a stand alone book with no promised publication schedule and continuity. It was being worked on when the people were there, and finished when ready. This turned into a problem because Mr. Butterfield would often corner Susan, now editor-in-chief of 3D Cosmic Publications, and hand her a new project that required the artists, and graphic people on a priority matter. One such project was a set of glasses with 3D drawings on them for a chain of convenience stores to sell, or give away when some item was purchased. 3D Video also produced a set of 3D cards to go along with the movie, Jaws 3D for Topps. Susan and Tony as well as artist Barry Jackson worked on a 3D poster for the movie Friday the 13th Part 3. The comic work was back-burnered during these mini-crises. Among all the other projects, Susan says the book became an almost after-thought. Jack had done his work on a timely manner in late 1981, eventually, by late 1982, the artwork was finished and ready for the printer.

One looming problem, in late 1982, 3D Video was in trouble, their spending spree had caught up to them. The time of no budgets came to a quick halt. The company that bragged about cash flow and how well they were doing was suddenly cash poor. Yes they had taken in over 12 million dollars, but the new accountant told them that they had spent 14 million. The printer needed 6-7 thousand dollars up front to print the 100 thousand issue run. They found the up front money and the printer came through with 100 thousand copies, neatly delivered to their warehouse. Ray remembers this period;

“This was a cosmic book, by the way, it wasn’t a 3-D comic book–hyperbole was the real stuff of our day-to-day existence.”

So I worked there for about a year and in December of 1982 the Battle comic actually was printed and I was there at the printers when it rolled off the press. I have 3-D photos of the book being printed.”

Susan and the chosen inker, John Rupkalvis disagreed about the colors. She recalls;

“When it was printed Ray, John & I were there at the printers, but only John could approve the colors. We both strongly disagreed with his choices, but we were so happy to have it finally being printed that we had to go along with the situation.”

Susan thought they were too faded. Susan lost and some of her pride waned with the inking choices.

On Dec. 11th, Ray set up a comic book signing for Jack at a local comic shop—Ray supplied the books. Susan Pinsky and Tony Alderson accompanied Jack and a lovely time was had by all. The feedback was all positive and Kirby wowed the crowds. After the signing in Studio City, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner ran a newspaper article entitled, Pow! 3D comic craze is back—Cartoonist all smiles: New book a fast seller at (that’s right) $3 The article by Timothy Carlson features a large photo of Jack seated at a table containing many books, and art pieces, signing a book for a young fan. After a particularly shy 10 year old got a book, Jack turned to an older collector and said, “Look out for his generation! They’re gonna zap you!” Jack’s return to 3-D was questioned, Jack explained “It drove me crazy to do the painstaking overlapping of blue and red shading of the drawings (in 1953) this time I just did the drawings and I was happy to leave the rest to 3-D Video.” The flyer for the signing at The American Comic Book Company headlights the first major 3D comic book in over 25 years! But it also mentions his old books plus the new first issue of Silver Star. Also on the shelf were Captain Victory, and Destroyer Duck. Jack kept busy for a semi-retired comic book man. At $3, the book without a price got one quickly, though the other independent books were retailing at $1. Susan said that after the accountant added up all the costs, the books came to about a dollar a piece. 3-D’s marketing director, Linda Feldman boldly told everyone that Battle for a 3-D World would easily sell out its 100 thousand print run. Susan says the hyperbolic b.s. was a direct extension of Jim Butterworth’s personality. The article did make its requisite mistake when they credited Jack with creating Capt. Marvel.

Susan Pinsky, Jack Kirby and Tony Alderson at a signing in a Hollywood Comic shop stereo photo by David Starkman

Unfortunately 3-D Video went bankrupt, and the printer never received the remainder. Ray Zone was let go, and the next day Susan arrived at work to find the door sign taken down from her door. She was also let go, as were her assistants Roy Besser, and Mark Beam- both important parts of assembling the comic. The boxes of comics languished on the delivery dock never to be sent to the distributor.

But the story doesn’t end there. Shortly 3-D Video held an auction to raise money for creditors. Ray, David, Susan and a friend, Mark Ober attended this auction and went home with boxes of glasses, the boxes of comics, and other assets. Unfortunately they had no place to store the comics so they sat outside a garage for a period. Never let anyone claim that it doesn’t rain in Southern California. It rained and some comics were ruined. Susan did work out a deal with several Western distributors such as Bud Plant to take the books and distribute them to comic shops. After a year and a half, the public would see Battle For a 3D World.

After being let go by 3-D Video, Ray started his own company.

“In 1983 I started my own company, The 3-D Zone, which was to be, specifically, a company to convert flat, existing images into 3D, make 3D glasses, and do 3D printing.”

Ray was a hustler, always exuberantly looking for the next project. A year later Ray would hire Jack Kirby to create 3 posters of children at play. Jack actually drew four, but only three were chosen. These would be placed in boxes of Post Honeycomb Cereal. Mike Thibodeaux recalled;

“I did some presentation pieces, but I don’t remember if they were for Ruby-Spears or for some other company. They were some toy posters that went into cereal boxes. Nobody knows about these things, but I remember inking them. They were kid sports concepts.”

Ray Zone produced these posters for a cereal account. Ray recalls;

“I did a 3D conversion job with Jack Kirby for Honeycomb cereal. Jack drew great images of a kid on a skateboard, a baseball player, and a scene with a BMX bicycle. I sent down a proposal to Bill and Steve Schanes at Pacific with copies of the Honeycomb 3D sports action posters and a specific proposal for a 3D comic that had all the prices I was charging, including the glasses that could bind into the book. They got back to me in late 1983 and said they wanted to do a book (Alien Worlds 3-D).

When the Pacific book came off the presses, Schanes showed copies to publishers at Petuniacon, in Oakland. The people at Aardvark-Vanaheim were so excited they ordered their own 3D comic. Ray was a master at letting one project sell the next. Later, when Pacific was going through bankruptcy, the Schanes said that their 3D Comic had been a disaster. It was costly and never sold in the marketplace leaving them with bundles of expensive back stock in their warehouse; sort of a curse of the 3D comic. Ray Zone says that story is full of beans! He says Pacific had a quick 100% sell through of their initial 60,000 copy order, and they were so happy they placed a second order for an additional 20,000. Ray says he remembers because he had to manufacture the additional 20,000 glasses for the books. He thinks Schanes was doing some scapegoating. Ray Zone had made a name for himself. He would follow with over a hundred other comics, working with such luminaries as Will Eisner, Steve Ditko and Neal Adams. Ray added that yes it was very time intensive, but at his peak in 1987 he did manage a comic a month for a year or so, but the pressure got to him and he cut back to first bi-monthly, and then quarterly.

Jack looking good—picture by Susan Pinsky

Susan’s memories of the Kirby’s are nothing but love. She mourned the passing of both Jack and Roz. She says he was the most professional artist she ever worked with and the most kind and gracious. She sent me a stereo photo of Jack, looking very trim and healthy working on a page. This photo was taken during a visit to the Kirby’s. As a present, Jack gave her a piece of original art which she had framed and is hanging in her living room today. It is with great thanks and respect that the author acknowledges the assistance and memories of the ever young, beautiful, bubbly brunet, Susan Pinsky, for her help in telling this story, and the inimitable Ray Zone for his recollections.

Postscript

In 1982, 3D Video set up a program where they were going to show a 3D movie on a local California station. The catch was that the viewers had to buy a set of glasses for a dollar at a local 7-11 store. This aggravated the heck out of late night host Johnny Carson and he spent a whole monologue railing against this practice. As a prop, Johnny walked out wearing a set of 3D glasses. It seems that by mistake, Johnny had received some 3D glasses from the release of Battle For a 3D World comic book.

Well, at some point, Johnny Carson did a bit involving the glasses, and it soon turned into a riff on the tagline on the glasses. (Kirby-King of Comics)

3D inside and out

Carson was quite put off that this Kirby guy was calling himself the “King of the Comics” when he had not even heard of him, not realizing that “comics” referred to the books, not stand-up comedians. Carson asked Ed McMahon if he had heard of him. No, Ed, said. The bit went on for awhile, with Carson ripping Kirby the whole time, even going so far as to call him a con-man. Well, as you might imagine, Kirby, who coincidentally was watching, was quite displeased about this whole thing. So displeased, that he even got a lawyer involved. The lawyer calmed Jack down; they got hold of Freddie DeCordova, Johnny’s producer, who couldn’t have been more apologetic. Fans sent Johnny letters. Ultimately, things were resolved amicably, with Carson devoting time in his show apologizing to Kirby for his mistaken comments.

From June 8th 1982 Latenight Show;

“Now, before we begin tonight-we’ve been off for a week and I have to start with an apology tonight and I mean this sincerely. Remember a couple weeks ago, locally out here, Channel 9 had a 3-D movie and they sold 3-D glasses through stores to see the movie. They sold a couple million pair. Doc was wearing one of his rather loud outfits and somebody had given me a pair of 3-D glasses which I had in my pocket, so I took them out and was looking at Doc’s outfit and I started to talk about the movie, mentioning that over 2 million pairs of glasses sold.

First of all, I was wrong—the glasses I had were not the ones sold at 7-11. Those were glasses designed by the gentleman I’m going to mention in a moment, to view 3-D posters. Anyway, Ed, you were a big help to me that night because you said “Why don’t you read what’s on the glasses? Right, and it said, “These glasses designed by Jack Kirby- King of comics.

Now if you say to a comedian or an entertainer, “King of comics”, what’s the first thing you think of? The comics… comedians, guys who do jokes for a living. And the audience kind of laughed, because we had not heard of Jack Kirby-King of Comics. So when we said – I had turned around and said laughingly, “They made a lot of money on these glasses. Rather than King of Comics, Jack Kirby is King of Con-men.”

Well it shows you we don’t know as much as we sometimes think. (reading from letter) “Mr. Kirby is the king of comics because he has created, or co-created such classic comic book characters as Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, and many others. As a matter of fact, the main reference book on comics is dedicated to Jack Kirby, “without whom there would not have been any comics to write a history about.” (ends reading letter)

Anyway, having not met Mr. Kirby, who has a fine reputation as a comic book artist and creator, we are very sorry. We certainly did not mean it maliciously since we did not know the man and we thought it was some comic picking up a couple bucks making 3D glasses. This letter informing us came from a Mark E-V-A-N-I-E-R and he apparently is a comic book fan who saw our show and realized our error.

So, Mr. Kirby, if you are watching, we certainly didn’t mean to embarrass you or make fun of you.”

The sincere apology ended the whole brouhaha and Jack, in return drew a couple sketches of Johnny and Ed and all was forgiven.

Mark Evanier, in a blog entry wrote about a follow-up face to face with Mr. Carson showing his humble side.

“On one show a few years ago, Johnny inadvertently said some unkind things about one of my closest friends.(Jack Kirby) The details are immaterial except to say that Johnny had his facts mixed-up and didn’t know what he was talking about… and my friend was deeply, deeply hurt by the incident.

I phoned up Fred deCordova and explained the situation. He instantly agreed that a large apology was warranted and he told me that if I wrote a letter giving the facts, he would guarantee that Carson would apologize on the air. I did and, as advertised, Johnny did a long and gracious retraction at the earliest opportunity. It was so sincere, in fact, that several former Tonight Show staffers, phoned me to ask how I had arranged it. Did I have photos of Johnny with an underage goat or something?

Three weeks later, I was walking through the NBC complex, passing Carson’s parking space that is, sad to say, the high point of the NBC Studio Tour. Suddenly, a two-seater Mercedes pulled into it, the driver’s seat occupied by J. Carson. Guards were scurrying out to escort him but I was between them and him and at that moment, it didn’t dawn on me that I was committing any felony by stepping up to Johnny, introducing myself and thanking him for the prompt and civil apology.  So I did.

My back was to the guards but I could tell that they were in a high state of alarm.  Someone is approaching Mr. Carson! They may even have gone for their guns. Johnny waved them away and stood there with me, his arms full of papers and folders, chatting for maybe five minutes. He seemed genuinely thankful that I had gotten the correction in so promptly and without a lot of litigation threatened. He even laughed when I said, “Well, I thought you could do with a few less lawyers in your life.” I recall thinking it was one of those Bizarro World moments: Me making Johnny Carson laugh.

I was delighted he was so polite because, just as I wouldn’t have wanted my Tonight Show watching dampened by an unhappy experience on staff, I wouldn’t have wanted it despoiled by an ugly encounter with Carson. I’m sure he is capable of incivility. I’m just pleased I didn’t see it.

He shook my hand and thanked me again. And then he went in to do his show. And I went home to watch it.”

It doesn’t totally end there. In the mid-Eighties, Ray Zone had a local cable TV show called the Zone Show, where he introduced and interviewed local artists. On Oct. 10, 1984 Jack Kirby was the guest for a taped half-hour interview. Jack was in the studio with a large blue screen behind him. Ray Zone was conspicuously hosting off-screen. During the show a constant stream of Kirby covers were chroma-keyed to appear in the background. It created a most intriguing sight, of the animated Kirby talking with covers floating behind him. The interview stuck closely to Jack’s history and precious little was said about 3D.

Pacific followed up Captain Victory by signing up popular Mike Grell for a book called Starslayer. Mike says that he signed up at Pacific a few weeks before Jack, but Jack got his pages to the company so much faster that his book was published first. The Schanes noticed that there was still room at the back of the new book for a filler strip. They remembered the young man who had hung around their stores and he’d been working on Kirby’s drawings at the Comic-Con. When asked for a filler strip, Dave Stevens agreed and came up with The Rocketeer. Both were very well received. The Rocketeer would be the unqualified hit of the year and the strip that finally put the independents at the fore. It was so big that Marvel reached into their bag of tricks and found a small one-use background character in a long forgotten Daredevil book named Rocketeer. They threatened legal action trying to attempt the strip’s cancellation: typical bullying tactics. The suit ended when Disney expressed interest in the Rocketeer as a movie project, and scared Marvel away.

Kirby’s Kids
John Pound – Scott Shaw! – Dave Stevens – Mike Thibodeaux

During the threatened lawsuit, Kirby was constantly bolstering Dave, Jack volunteered to give depositions or other ways to help out. Jack was very proud of Dave’s success. Dave recalls;

“Jack was kind of proud when any of us snotnoses did something with ourselves later in life. When we were all high-schoolers visiting the house, they probably had no idea any of us would take it further than just a hobby, and I think when Scott Shaw and myself, and John Pound and a few of the other guys actually made a career of it, that kind of tickled him in a lot of ways.”

Even the reclusive Steve Ditko contributed a strip called Missing Man. Pacific was making a name for itself. Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones contributed Groo, the Wanderer. (after the first appearance in Destroyer Duck)

James Romberger uses this collection as proof that Kirby’s dialogue was inspiring. Others see it as overblown.

There were some complaints about the coloring on the early issues of Captain Victory.
To some, the series looked muted and dull; it lacked the dynamics to match up with Jack’s pencils. The Schaneses chose Steve Oliff as the colorist for flagship titles Captain Victory and Starslayer.

Steve recalls in an essay posted on his olyoptics.com website:

“It was the first time I’d tried flat, coded, hand separated color. I had visions of doing flat color like it had never been done before by using some of the full-color tricks I’d learned on the Hulk and Moon Knight. I even went so far as to add Zip-a-tone [pasted-on dot patterns] to Jack’s original art on Captain Victory #1 to get the added tonal values. My good intentions aside, the coloring came out dark and muddy rather than dramatic and moody. It [Captain Victory] wasn’t the best story Jack ever wrote, and I’m afraid I really wasn’t giving it the look he wanted, so he fired me. I’ve never really been comfortable with flat color. Even though it was a shock to be fired by a boyhood idol, I probably deserved it”.

Awe inspiring – the bible meets Dali

The sales were good, but the reception was very mixed. Many complained of Jack’s explosive dialog—right out of the Forties. Other saw the plot as childish—more consistent with Saturday cartoons than as a comic book fighting for space with Miller’s Daredevil, or the young guns over at Marvel. The Goozlebobber strip was almost incomprehensible. Jack’s over the top heroics seemed simple-minded and farcical in a world grown cynical by Gov’t villainy and third world atrocities.

Some complained that the storyline was too close to Jack’s themes in the Eternals, or the New Gods. Jack replied that Captain Victory was a “kind of warning”. “I think there’s a complacency among the young. Sometimes we go overboard on trust.” As an example Kirby cited the optimism found in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Kirby felt that “Spielberg’s vision of the benevolent aliens was as far off-base as the peaceful greeting they received from the American military and Government advisors.” Still he worried about the tigers at the gate.

Next Jack Kirby offered up another sci-fi strip called Silver Star. This was originally meant for a screenplay, but Kirby retrofitted it into comic format. This was a dark tale of genetic engineering and science gone bad. A rogue scientist Bradford “Cowboy” Miller has injected several expectant mothers with a “genetic package” designed to create a new breed of human, Homo Geneticus, which can survive the coming nuclear holocaust he expects. One of Miller’s test subjects is his own son Morgan, whose immense powers emerge during a firefight in Vietnam and who must wear a silver bodysuit for his own survival, to contain his energy. Morgan battles against another recipient of his father’s genetic treatment: Darius Drumm, a preacher’s son who leads a “cult of self-denial,” and attempts to kill off other members of Homo Geneticus (including a circus strongman, a female stunt driver, and ghetto hero Big Masai), and plots to destroy the world

Kirby slipping and dark edges take over

There is also a Christian fundamentalist vibe from the villain Darius Drumm – the mutant leader of a cult of fanatics. Drumm’s purpose is even more insidious than Darkseid’s as his raison d’etre seems to be destruction of humanity, not blind obeisance. Big holes in the premise and continuity show how a slower more purposeful Kirby could have improved his work. Sometimes his mind raced too far ahead of the pencils. Even this late in his career, Kirby’s concepts and visuals still possess extraordinary vitality, and his storytelling has a wild, rollicking momentum. Unfortunately his concepts were not nearly as well realized as his graphics. Jack had reached a point where the two aspects of his genius no longer meshed smoothly.. His imagination could not come up with concepts the equal of his artwork. Perhaps Kirby’s most nihilistic comic, the viewpoint is gloomy and desolate. It had a cover date of Feb. 1983. Mike Royer returned to ink over Kirby thanks to an animator’s strike that freed up his time. D. Bruce Berry finished up the last 2 issues after Royer returned to Disney. Mike Thibodeaux and Richard French provided a back-up strip named The Last of the Viking Heroes in several issues.

Mike talks about Kirby’s role in creating the Viking Heroes;

“I was trying to come up with a concept of my own, and he kept saying, “do something you love” “What do you love?” And I thought the Vikings were the coolest guys ever! They were the ultimate adventurers. Traveling all over the world, with their incredible, mythical gods. The visuals have such endless possibilities. Most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to draw scantily-clad women. He (Jack) was more of a mentor in showing me the importance in pursuing things you are passionate about; don’t try to follow formulas. Formulas can sometimes create barriers for the imagination. Along with this advice, he also drew three Viking Heroes covers for me.” Jack even drew a sketch of Captain America shouting “Don’t say it, Mike! Do it!” for encouragement.

Scantily clad women and some Kirby covers

Meanwhile, Jack was commissioned by a comic shop owner/friend to write and draw something biographical and personal for a magazine he was publishing named Argosy. The publisher was Richard Kyle, who owned a book store in Long Beach, Cal. He had met Kirby at the San Diego Comic Con. It seems that everybody met Kirby at the San Diego Comic Con! While sharing a table with Jack and Roz at a post-Con awards banquet, Jack told a poignant tale of his childhood, and Richard asked Kirby if he would draw it for his new magazine enterprise. He promised Jack that he would print directly from the pencils with just a muted back wash to give an antiquated feel to the story. Kirby agreed as long as the colors were muted and dreary. As Jack said “they weren’t colorful times”. Jack reached back to his early childhood and drew a short 10 page story about a boy trapped in a hellish nightmare of hurtful taunts and youthful gang style camaraderie and fighting. Street Code embodied all of Kirby’s childhood fears in a coming of age story of a sensitive youth wanting to escape the shackles of the ghetto. The exuberance, the struggles, and the dreams of his early life came to life on those pages in as dramatic and unvarnished imagery ever done by Jack.

Richard Kyle – new printing

This was Jack in all his glory unfettered by colorful costumes, super villains and the other accoutrements of the comic stories he had drawn the last 40+ years. This was Kirby ripping off scabs, and wrestling with his inner demons, this was Kirby the “artiste” finally coming out. Unfortunately he never followed up on this. It remains a shadow image of what Kirby might have done-should have done. Due to financial troubles, Kyle had to drop the project. And Jack’s masterpiece was tossed on a shelf.

Temperamental artists were wrecking Pacific’s schedule. Neal Adams had promised a regular series named Ms. Mystic, about an ecological Goddess of Vengeance. The strip first appeared as a back-up strip in Captain Victory to good reviews. But after that it would be months before more pages came in for the promised premiere issue.

Street Code spread – Kirby’s close quarter neighborhood

And another six months before the second was available. Series couldn’t get a toe hold due to long waits. Dave Stevens, ever the perfectionist couldn’t produce Rocketeer fast enough for a regular series. The Schanes personal love for Gothic style horror convinced them to publish several series of these books by people such as Berni Wrightson and Bruce Jones. Unfortunately the market didn’t respond and the sales were sluggish. The roller coasting racing upward had reached the top and caromed wildly downhill. The Schanes managed to keep the presses rolling, until they made a mistake, like Al Harvey two decades earlier, they decided to publish a 3D comic. The result, Three-Dimensional Alien Worlds was a very good book, with art by Dave Stevens, Jon Bolton, Art Adams, and others, but the sales were disappointing, and much inventory began accumulating according to Steve Schanes. Neal Adams created a dreadful one shot book called Skateman, which almost bankrupted the brothers. Other outside pressures began to build such as outstanding debts from some of their biggest accounts that caused a horrible cash flow problem. The books were doing ok, but the distribution end was killing them. Mike Grell, seeing the end coming took his Starslayer to another publisher. Mark Evanier took Groo, and Dave Stevens took his Rocketeer to competitors. A snowball effect took hold and slowly the money stopped coming from the Schanes, Kirby, still doing his animation work simply pulled the plug on the books in late 1983. It was a short but ultimately profitable venture for Jack. Mike Thibodeaux remembers;

“I remember I did a couple jobs for Pacific, and they stopped paying. I think they were in financial trouble at this point. But they always took care of Jack; he was always paid up front.”

By late 1983, Pacific closed shop, one of many casualties that made up the independent comic publishers of the ‘80s. The good thing was that Pacific showed that creator owned strips were viable, and that small publishers could compete against Marvel and DC. It forced the big companies to adopt new policies allowing the creators more independence and reward for their work.

Jenette Kahn – Graphic Novel Hunger Dogs – Super Powers Mini series

The time at Pacific had kept Kirby’s name in the public. And the big companies saw the writing. 1984 looked to be a banner year for Jack. DC had come a callin’ and the news was good. After Jack had left DC in 1975, Carmine Infantino was let go shortly after. The new publisher was Jenette Kahn, the new industry wunderkind.

At only 26, she was the youngest person to ever head up a comic publisher, and the first woman. One of the first new books she assigned was the return of Kirby’s New Gods. She says she had seen the sales figures for the old books, and they shouldn’t have been cancelled. Soon after the rest of the Kirby cast made appearances in other DC titles. Darkseid was upgraded to a major DC villain who would circulate among the assorted DC books and cause mischief wherever he went.

It was under Kahn’s tutelage that DC had regained footing and began a long step back to respectability. For good or ill, Kahn is renowned for transforming comics from a children’s medium to a visually stylish and sophisticated art form for adults. Writer’s such as Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman brought their talents to comics. One of her most important features was to champion the idea of graphic novels, creator owned properties, and high profile mini-series. After a contentious competition, DC had also arranged with toy manufacturer Kenner Inc. to produce an expanded line of action figures under the umbrella title Super Powers. Sensing a lack of quality villains, Kenner and DC agreed that Darkseid should be included. With the addition of Darkseid, other Fourth World characters were soon added.

Orion and the Demon make the cut

Kahn also instituted better agreements with the creators. Though Kirby’s characters were already part of DC’s Universe, Kahn thought it only proper to make sure Kirby would receive royalties for these figures. Kirby would also produce some artwork for the packages. Kirby, though no longer active with DC was still the single most talked about creator at the assorted Cons. One of the most often asked question of the DC execs was “when is Kirby going to finish his New Gods storyline?” In a meeting at the swanky Beverly Hills Hotel Kahn approached Jack with an offer, “if we reprint the New Gods, will you finish your tale? Kirby was still stinging from the abrupt ending to his Captain Victory series but he agreed. The first step was a new establishing story that would appear as a last story in the reprint titles, and then Kirby would do a larger, graphic novel that would wrap up the story. It was also announced that Kirby would oversee a new mini-series called Super Powers where most of DC’s iconic heroes would take on its most iconic villains. This mini-series would tie-in to the new action figure line produced by Kenner. A new cartoon show also carried the Super Heroes logo

The new books turned into an artistic fiasco, maybe not financially. There really was no way that Kirby could wrap up the Fourth World story in one book. So Jack ejected Mister Miracle and the Forever People and concentrated solely on the battle between Darkseid and Orion.

Return to former glory
Darkseid dominates
Jack’s last DC work
Kirby’s most disturbing picture

The new story tacked onto the reprint book was dense and excellent. “Even Gods Must Die” ends dramatically with Orion being cut down in a blistering hail of weapons fire. Kirby’s vision shows Orion with huge chunks being blown out of his body. The page was disturbing in its horror and display of destruction. It was always Kirby’s plan for one of them to die, though he did say that a father would never kill a son. Yet for the graphic novel, DC nixed that idea because they wanted the characters to remain available for other stories. So in the Hunger Dogs, Orion was rejuvenated by Himon’s miraculous mother box, and with the help of the lowlies on Apokolips, defeated Darkseid, though he managed to escape in the end, not unlike Darth Vader in Star Wars. Without the dramatic finish Kirby had planned, the story more or less petered out to an anti-climactic nothing; not much different from the ugly, anti-climactic fall of the Soviet Union years later- not with a bang, but with a whimper. No one was thrilled but it was done. The artwork was reformatted several times and with each change different inkers became involved, and the artwork was a mess. Greg Theakston tried but couldn’t connect the dots. Kirby’s draftsmanship was not at a peak, and no amount of fixing made the art of a high quality. It was cartoonish rather than dramatic, and the story was a cut and paste disaster. Not a fitting way for an epic to end. But it was done and the project was brought to a finality of sorts. Kirby was well paid plus DC started sending him royalty checks.

Kirby gets a little wordy – One last crack at glory

Promo poster sent to stores Kirby/Theakston

The San Diego Comic-Con was aghast! For the first time it would have to go on without Jack Kirby as a headliner. The word came down that Jack had been in an auto accident and was home recovering. The truth was much worse. Jack Kirby had had an heart attack. He was hospitalized and set up for bypass surgery. Jack was scared that if Ruby-Spears found out they would let his contract run out and Kirby would lose his job. A cover story was worked out and his work was told that Jack was in an auto accident, but was well and recovering. Never had Kirby been so relieved to have switched from freelancing for comic companies to full time status as an employee with an animation house-complete with medical insurance. The old set-up would have bankrupted him. Kirby recovered quickly.

Kirby finally gets the chance to do DC characters too late

Greg Theakston was a Detroit boy who migrated east to New York after high school to seek his artistic fortune. He found a home with Neal Adams at the Continuity studio, working at inking backgrounds, clean-up and whatever job Neal had available. He graduated to penciler, and colorist and became part of the Crusty Bunkers art gang. He also started doing commercial work as a cover artist for paperbacks and magazines. He became a regular contributor to Mad Magazine. Greg’s other passions were as historian, working endlessly gathering all he could of the early comic history, and as an art restorer cleaning up old comic art. He met Jack Kirby while in New York and slowly became one of Jack’s trusted insiders. He became a regular inker over Jack Kirby in the mid-Eighties, working on the Super Powers line. It was his job to try to blend Royer’s, and Bruce Berry’s inking on the graphic Novel Hunger Dogs—a most thankless job since no one could ever find a happy medium on that art. Greg continued at DC inking Jack’s pages on the Who’s Who series of books. Greg was also a highly respected painter who painted several of Kirby’s drawings for comics. He would also become a trusted friend and art assistant to Jack when he was fighting to get his art back from Marvel. Greg would go on to produce many volumes detailing the history of Jack Kirby, first in his Jack Kirby Treasury parts 1 and 2, later in his Complete Jack Kirby volumes, and his pair of Jack Kirby Readers. Jack was also a large part of his Sunday Comics, and Pure Imagination anthology books. Perhaps the best Theakston publication was the reprinting of Roz’s wonder book of Kirby sketches of practically all of Kirby’s creations. Greg named this Heroes and Villains. Greg is also writing a Kirby biography called Jack Magic.

Greg Theakston – Pure Imagination

On October 7, 1985, four hijackers from the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the cruise liner Achille Lauro off Egypt as it was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said, Egypt. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they ordered the captain to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. Among the hostages were Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer.

The next day, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Mr. Klinghoffer, a Jew, for execution, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. Jack knew Leon Klinghoffer, as a boy in the BBR. Leon was the business manager and staff photographer for the BBR’s newspaper. The story is told that the hijackers made disparaging remarks about Klinghoffer being a Jew, and Leon spat in one of their faces. They shot him and dumped him overboard. Leon’s body was recovered a week later and returned to New York for burial. Klinghoffer never forgot the times spent at the BBR. And was a regular benefactor for years and years.

Jack’s good friend gone too soon

Jack would get misty eyed whenever he recalled Leon.

“But this fellow Klinghoffer who you may have read about in the papers, he was killed by the Arabs. I was raised with him. Now the Arabs had machine guns on him right? He didn’t give a damn about the machine guns. He probably walked over and cursed ‘em. Told them not to push women and children around. Which was a terrible thing to do to my generation, see? And he reacted, and of course he suffered for it. So it’s something that you just can’t help doing.”

By 1985, Jack was busy assisting on cartoons like Mr. T and Chuck Norris Karate Komandos; mostly providing weapon and machinery designs. One of the fonder animation efforts was a collaboration of three greats. The Centurions Power Xtreme was created and designed by Gil Kane, Doug Wildey, and Jack Kirby. Thematically it was a copy of every Kirby team unit ever created, it even had the elemental aspect Kirby reused often. It was sort of an updated Challengers of the Unknown, with a sea expert, a flyer, and a ground warrior. They operated out of an orbiting headquarters named Skyvault, eerily similar to Brother Eye from OMAC. It later added an energy master, and an Indian Infiltrator.

The original story arc was a 1985 five episode mini-series. It was hard-edged sci-fi; dynamic and explosive. The result was positive and the next year saw 60 full episodes. This series ran daily between Sept. and Dec. 1986. Led by feisty Crystal Kane, the team featured three men of different disciplines who donned exo-skeletons to fight the cyborg legions of Doctor Terror. The animation was done by the Japanese studio Sunrise, which was common for that time. DC came out with a short 4 issue comic series that died soon. Kenner Toy Company released a series of action figures to tie-in with the cartoon. These figures looked like a blending of Star Wars and Legos, as the main figures had holes – or ports – which allowed the suits and weapons to snap into.

Typical 80’s action figures

Stan Lee had stood astonishingly quiet during the fight for the artwork and Kirby noticed. It bothered Jack, and many fans that Stan had gotten his sweet deal from Marvel but wouldn’t speak up for his old partner. Gary Groth, editor of The Comics Journal in a panel discussion talks about getting Stan Lee to comment on the art dispute. Groth:

“Well we tried to contact Stan Lee for the story that appeared in CJ #100 and as soon as we contacted his office in California, they instituted a new policy that Stan Lee wouldn’t give interviews”.

The audience laughed at the thought of the ever loquacious Stan Lee not giving an interview. Their relationship had reached bottom and would never be repaired. Marvel refused to even talk to their lawyer, and negotiations broke off. To add insult to injury in Variety Magazine dated March 6, 1985 was an ad touting an upcoming movie from Cannon Films featuring Captain America. In the credits it says that the film was based on Stan Lee’s Marvel Comic strip character. Jack was so incensed at this snub that he contacted his old partner and together they had a lawyer contact the studio to correct the credits immediately or face a lawsuit. When asked about it, Stan gave his usual “some unnamed advertising guy mistakenly credited him” spiel. With Stan it’s always someone else who mistakenly gave him all the credit.

The fan media got wind of the artwork dispute and talked of boycotting Marvel unless they gave Kirby back his art-sans waiver. Petitions were circulated and many major artists and artistic guilds sent letters of protest to Marvel. Jenette Kahn of DC sent a particularly scathing letter in support of Kirby

To the Comics Journal,

It is a sad history. During the first three decades in our industry, comic art was destroyed by all the major companies because they were insensitive to even the personal value of the work and unconscious that artists had any rights in it. By the late Sixties, as protests grew, the majors ceased to butcher artists’ pages, but hoarded them instead in warehouses.

In 1973, DC acknowledged what should have been true from the industry’s beginning and what is true for all other magazines and periodical literature. We, the publishing houses, are paying only for the right to reproduce the work. The ownership of the page, the actual object, belongs unequivocally to the artist, and the artist alone.

We emptied our warehouse, searching out artists who had not worked for DC in years. In 1978, DC became –and still is—the only major comic book company to guarantee in every contract written for every piece of work the return of the original art. We also were the first and only to guarantee payment if the artwork we had in our custody was damaged or lost.

Jack Kirby is one of our industry’s greatest innovators and contributors. We are all in his debt. His artwork, like that of all the hundreds of other artists who have received their pages back from the publishers, is his morally and by industry practice for the past twelve years.
There has never been a time in those twelve years that we have singled out any artist and attached different conditions to the return of his art. We cannot imagine a circumstance in which it would be appropriate or ethical. Ownership of artwork is absolute and therefore cannot be subject to negotiation.

Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, Paul Levitz

Will Eisner wrote a poignant and passionate plea to Marvel for his former studio mate and friend;

Gentlemen,

I have been following the public debate over your refusal to return Jack Kirby’s art. I have read with growing dismay the details and surrounding rhetoric.

This matter has gone beyond whatever legal merits there may or may not be to your position.

By your public intransigence you are doing severe damage to an American cultural community that is now emerging from the dark years of trash and into an era of literary responsibility.

It is important to those of us who devote our lives to this important art form to know that we have certain inalienable moral rights and that these are respected by the publishers.

For the sake of protecting the standards of this profession—not to mention your own reputation—I urge you to return to Jack Kirby all his original art AND DO SO PROMPTLY AND FAIRLY.

A whole new generation of creative people are watching your conduct. Don’t fail them.

Signed

Will Eisner

All Jack ever wanted to do was sign the same waiver as every other Marvel artist had and get his birthright returned. Kirby had reached an age where he wondered about his legacy, and he feared signing the waiver might just erase any remaining trace of Kirby to his Marvel creations. His financial legacy was also a concern. Original art had become a major collectable, and prime pieces were bringing major bucks. This would help Jack leave a nest egg for Roz should he die.

Center of attention

The newfound celebrity caught Jack by surprise. He was a solitary man in a solitary business, staring alone into a blank white sheet, drawing on his own imagination to fill it in. This attention rattled his somewhat. He was happy for others to take up his cause, but still not used to outside help. “He explained. “ I’m from the old school. I’m from a generation you fellas know nothing about. I ask nobody to do anything for me. If they feel like writing a letter, fine, if they don’t, it’s still fine with me. I’ll continue my own fight. It’ll go on because I want it to go on. If it stops, it’ll be because I stopped it. I ask nothing of anybody.

Jack did his best on other’s characters

In an interview from The Comics Journal #105 with Tom Heintjes, Kirby makes a most eloquent observation:

“The strangest part about all this is that the people who make the sales are at the bottom of the heap. There’s a caste system whereby the people who sell the books are treated with contempt. The publishers aren’t doing good business. The sales don’t come from the executives. We’re in a visual medium, and the sales come from the artists.”

Darkseid after Hunger Dogs defeat – old habits DC characters

The Super Powers action figures were a hit, and several other Kirby figures were added in for a total of 11 characters available in stores near you. The Super Powers tie-in comic series was a low point, Kirby had no real feel for DC’s other heroes and the plot was old hat and silly. Kirby did draw the final issue, but it was a mess. A year later, the Super Powers series was continued with a new 6 issue story arc named #2. This was penciled by Jack, from a Paul Kupperberg script and it’s no more coherent than the first series. There were more Kirby creations in this tale as they were spotlighting the new additions to the action figure line. It was fun to see Kirby draw Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, and Dr. Fate, but his skills had diminished to where the drawings were weak, and distorted. They lacked any of the grandeur one wanted to see in a Kirby comic. Except for an occasional issue, or cover, this was the last work Jack did for DC.

Out of chaos comes a wonderful poster

It allowed Kirby to end his DC time on an upbeat note. Gone were the memories of Jack Schiff and Mort Weisinger, or Carmine tearing his heart out. Kirby rarely ever had anything negative to say about DC, He thought his recent treatment there was superlative. He gave the best he had and they responded with love and respect. When asked about any future plans with DC Kirby replied: “DC is the kind of an outfit I would do it for. Everybody there has been wonderful to me.” He said that if given the chance he would like to bring the Forever People and Mister Miracle to conclusions as well.

The annual Comic Con led to a well attended meeting of the old and the young, as Golden Agers Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel and Jack Kirby and wives spent the evening with young Hollywood’s Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, and Mark Hamill, comic geeks all. It was a good time for all despite the crotchety old Bob Kane trying to one up Billy Mumy’s old TV show Lost In Space. Any time the old artists got together was a fun time since time was catching up to all of them. Hamill never forgot that night.

“We were just so happy to tell these guys how much they meant to us. When they were actually working, comic books were not something you bragged about being involved in.”

The new meets the old

The problems with Marvel were escalating. An episode of the TV show 20/20 featured Stan Lee as guest, and during the show, Stan was credited as the sole creator of all the Marvel characters, with no correction from Stan. Jack’s simmer was reaching a boil. In interviews Kirby’s anger had concretized into absolute derision of Stan Lee. Jack would actually claim that Stan never wrote anything nor collaborated on any of the Marvel characters with Jack. Kirby’s claims were as false as the one’s made by Stan, but it was the only outlet available for Kirby to keep his legacy alive. He had no panting media like Stan, he had no position of strength like Marvel, all he had was his own grit and the love of the fans. There were constant clashes between Marvel execs and comic creators, and fans on Kirby’s behalf. Kirby’s good friend Mark Evanier had risen to a position of reverence as both writer and historian with the fans. Once to a journalist he said. “At the point the so-called Marvel Age began with the Fantastic Four #1, Stan had been in charge at Marvel for twenty years. And while he’d written countless stories, have you ever heard anyone single any of them out as “well written”? Implied was that Jack had been creating new characters, new concepts, and even new genres for those same twenty years prior to his work at Marvel. Plus he continued after he left Marvel while Stan Lee never had any successful creations after the split with Kirby. Roz put it more succinctly: “Jack created many characters before he even met Stan. He created almost all the characters when he was associated with Stan, and after he left Stan, he created many, many more characters. What has Stan created before he met Jack, and what has he created after Jack left?

Jim Shooter

As the conflict grew, so did the demands, when one side added in another demand, so did the other. Marvel went public claiming Jack wasn’t negotiating in good faith, that they were willing to return Kirby’s art, but that Kirby was making claims as to the copyrights. Jack would state that he never ever made any claims as to the copyrights. The low point might have been at a San Diego Comic con panel discussion, Jim Shooter interrupted the proceedings to challenge Jack about the conflict. This so enraged Roz, that she got all up in Shooters 6’10” grill, pointing her finger and finally shamed him into leaving. Shooter became the target for all the public outrage, and other Marvel execs noticing the perceived weakness organized an ouster. After the dismissal, some Marvel employees hung his image in effigy.

Something for himself

While Shooter was in charge at Marvel, some major artists, such as Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, John Byrne, and Gene Colan had refused to work for Marvel. Some of this was outrage over the treatment of Kirby, some not. In May 1987, after over 3 years of dispute, Marvel and Kirby finally reached an accord, and Marvel returned Kirby’s artwork. The quantity was a little over 2,100 pages, roughly one fifth of the estimated 10,000-13,000 pages Kirby had drawn for Marvel’s Silver Age. Amazingly, Marvel has slowly been finding and returning Kirby’s art—even though they have claimed that had no more—for the last 20 years. As a final parting shot, Marvel refused to even insure the shipment; just Marvel being petty to the end. Mike Thibodeaux and Mark Evanier helped Jack sort out the treasure trove. It was a welcome sight when those boxes of art arrived. Mike said ‘He was standing there, holding the splash to Avengers #7 and just staring at it for the longest time. You could see he was into it. He was into what he had done, which I’d never saw him do.”

While looking over the stash of pages, Kirby grew wistfully quiet. All the marvelous pieces of work in front of him forced him to face the totality of what he had accomplished at Marvel. Something he was loathe to do as a rule, he was hardwired to look forward, looking backward seemed a waste.

The return of the artwork wasn’t the end of the conflict. There were still matters regarding credit. Jack wanted the same simple credits on his characters that Stan Lee was getting. In an interview, Roz hissed at the reporter. “Tell them the Kirby’s never stop… there’s still a lot of things to be worked out” Their lawyer Greg Victoroff made it plain. “The issue of credit is separate, and has not been resolved. In fact, it’s rearing its ugly head right now.” (This was during the fight for proper screen credits for the Cannon produced Captain America film that mistakenly credited Stan Lee as creator)

In the same interview, Jack talks of the possibility of an autobiography, which Marvel wanted to limit the discussion of the company to a very small aspect. This after the original art demand prohibited Jack from writing a bio. Roz explained; “Under the old agreement, Jack had to go to Marvel for permission to do his biography.” His lawyer further explained. “One point that came out in the new agreement was that Jack was free to refer to Marvel in a “non-prominent” way. We can’t use Marvel’s name to promote or advertise the book.” Not that that would ever have been a possibility. Just as Jack never wanted Marvel to use his likeness, he certainly never planned to use Marvels. This becomes so hypocritical when one looks at all the archives and reference books Marvel put out with Kirby art as the central selling feature after Jack died. But this might explain some of the odd choices made on the published biographies which show no connection to Marvel.

The best thing about the article was that in referring to the onerous conditions originally made by Marvel as to the handling of the artwork, and the mentioning of anything regarding copyrights, it made clear that the new contract had deleted them. Victoroff made clear; “Jack got just about everything he wanted.” Including the right to sell his art, and be left alone by Marvel. Jack had now secured his legacy with a large cache from which Roz could continue to survive on.

Kirby had recovered from his bypass surgery, but minor problems and mini-strokes plagued him. Was he ever thankful to be working for an animation house rather than freelancing! Jack told Evanier, “If I weren’t working for those guys, I would have lost the house.” Evanier told a panel audience: “Jack had a very secure life in the ’80s. He had a house, a steady paycheck, health insurance, and he was out of comics, all thanks to Joe and Ken.”

For the rest of the Eighties, Jack enjoyed a semi-retirement. He was often called on to provide spot illustrations for DC’ Who’s Who series, or an occasional cover, and several pin-up pages in friendly independent comics. Mike Thibodeaux started up a new series featuring his Last of the Viking Heroes concept. He used the three covers that Jack had provided, plus Jack helped occasionally with plotting. Mostly Jack was content to attend various comic cons and bask in the adulation his career commanded. His house had become a magnet for every fan who wanted to simply tell him how much he was loved and admired. Greg Theakston’s ode to Roz, Heroes and Villains finally saw print.

Jim Shooter, perhaps apocryphally tells of a surreptitious meeting of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. This occurred during the art fiasco and I have never heard it verified.

“In 1986, again at San Diego Comic Con, I met with Jack. After that meeting — both Jack and Roz were there — I said, “Y’know Jack, we’re having our 25th anniversary party tonight. It would mean a lot to me if you would come.” He said he’d see, and Roz didn’t look too happy about that idea. Anyway, the party’s in full swing in this huge hall in the U.S. Grant Hotel. Stan and I are standing way in the back, fairly near the doors. All of a sudden I look up, and in the door come Jack and Roz. I ran over to them and shook his hand and escorted them over to where Stan was standing.

Dave Stevens, Jack, Alan Moore, and cat yronwode 1985 con

I have to tell you, it was Stan Lee’s finest hour. Just a moment before they arrived– you know how Stan does the big gesture sweeping his hands around? He had a glass of wine in his hand, and he whacked it against a pillar, and the glass broke, and his hand was slashed; he was bleeding buckets. So here’s Stan; he’s got his handkerchief pressed over his right hand, bleeding, probably going into shock, and I walk Jack over. Jack sticks out his hand, and this panic goes over Stan’s eyes. He sticks out his hand, and Jack shakes his hand — and then Stan has to wipe the blood off of Jack’s hand with his handkerchief. He’s clutching this handkerchief in his right hand, having this conversation with Jack, and it was a really cool moment.

Obviously these guys hadn’t had a real chat for a long time, and I felt privileged to witness it. With Roz impatiently hovering nearby, and Shooter anxious to referee, Lee and Kirby danced around each other.  “Stan was saying, ‘Gee, I really want it to work out,’ and, ‘Jack, I don’t have any control over this corporation.  I miss the old days.  I just want things to be good,'” Shooter said.

“Jack was responding in kind.  So, Stan says, ‘Why don’t you come over to the house sometime.  You know my number.  I know yours.  If I call you, will you come see me?’

“Jack says, ‘Yeah, I’d like to come over.’  And Stan says, ‘Just tell me when.  We’ll go to lunch, or whatever.’

“I’m watching history here.  They’re really getting friendly again.  They really seemed to be becoming friends.  Then Stan says, ‘Ya know, Jack, I don’t care who owns it.  I don’t care who gets the credit.  You can own it, you can have the credit.  I’d just like to work with you once more.'”

So, what does Kirby say?  Shooter said he began to nod.  “He’s like, ‘Well, that will be fine.’  And then Roz says, ‘Over my dead body.’  And she drags him away.”

Lee took it pretty hard.  Then, he caught a ride to the hospital to take care of his hand.

While I can’t verify, I can imagine Roz’s reaction very clearly. For accuracy’s sake I have been told this never happened. I have this interview with Max Borax and Jack where he mentions the meeting, but no sense of reconciliation from Jack’s viewpoint. It appeared on Comics Interview #41

MARK: You were talking to him about this yesterday, at the convention?

JACK: Yes.

MARK: Was it just the two of you alone?

JACK: It was me, him, and Jim Shooter. I told him that he should be more like Larry and just relax and have a great time.

MARK: What did he say?

JACK: He agreed! We got along amicably.

MARK: That’s great!

JACK: Yeah! The only thing is — I’m trying to get my pages back and I can’t understand why there’s such a struggle. Or why there’s a struggle over who did what or who created what. There’s no `reason for that, ’cause Stan and I know. Nobody else knows. And if — if Stan would only come out of that hiding place and just tell it to the world, see —everything would go great.

MARK: Jack, even though each of you, in your own hearts, know who did what —

JACK: We know!

MARK: —do you think that time has obscured some of —

JACK: NO! It hasn’t obscured it. He knows it, I know it. How we’re gonna prove it, I don’t know.

MARK: Do you think there’ll be a resolution to all this soon?

JACK: I don’t think so. I think that people don’t change. They can’t change. Sometimes, it’s too late. And you’ll just go on being what you are, and I’ll go on being what I am because I’m just like that. It’ll be something that, maybe lawyers will resolve for us. Human beings remain human beings. I can predict anything that Stan will do, and, uh —

MARK: He can predict what you’ll do?

JACK: Possibly, he can. He knows I’m a right guy, and I’m not gonna hurt him in any way, and vice versa.

MARK: Apart from the working relationship, do you miss the friendship you guys had?

JACK: No., because I make a lot of new friendships all the time. I know I can’t change Stan. I say my piece, he says his piece, and I let it go at that.

MARK: You know, the whole world would probably like to see the two of you guys shake hands.

JACK: We did, yesterday! But it resolves nothing. I could shake hands with Stan ’till doomsday and it would mean nothing, see. It would mean nothing — it would mean that the dance went on, that’s all. But beyond that the situation’s still the same. Somebody else will have to arbitrate. I’ll leave it to wiser heads. I don’t say I have the wisest head in the world. I’ll leave it to people with patience. I’ll try to have patience myself in the hopes that something positive will come out of all this. Whatever I want out of this is half-gone already, and whatever’s left I’m willing to be conciliatory about.

DC Stalwart Alan Kupperberg had a memory of this meeting;

“I was at that cocktail party in San Diego and I witnessed that handshake. People were so willing to believe that this terrible acrimony existed between Stan and Jack. Stan was sporting a fairly large bandage on his hand at this affair. I jokingly told someone that Stan had been wounded when Kirby threw a glass at Stan. This was instantly believed. I had to hustle to squelch my false rumor. I think some dummies still believe that it really happened”.

Kirby at a convention hawking Captain Victory – Stan being Stan

There were the occasional flare ups of contention between Kirby and Stan. Usually brought on by another article or TV show claiming Stan was the creator of the Marvel Universe, usually followed by a Kirby blast at Stan in a comic fanzine. One in particular was printed in The Comic Journal #134 Feb. 1990. In this interview Kirby gives no quarter to Stan, claiming Stan was nothing but a toady who did what Goodman told him and had no clue what was going on in the books. That it was all Kirby’s creativity that ran the Marvel Universe. Stan was so mad that he contemplated legal measures, but he rejected it. Perhaps Kirby’s words contained a little too much truth.

After the contention from the art return debate quieted down, Marvel actually began to reprint Simon/Kirby items in hi-quality. The first was Fighting American—the old Prize series and then the 1941Captain America in a 2 book slip cased edition, and finally the Harvey western series Boy’s Ranch; along with what were called the Marvel Archives which published the original issues of Fantastic Four, and Hulk and later all the rest of the original Marvel characters. The legacy of Jack Kirby was once again front and center at the comic shops. There was a deluxe reprint of some Simon and Kirby romance stories as well as several Kirby related biographical and historical compilations. Plus both Marvel and DC began publishing huge black and white collections of all their Golden and Silver Age books. Jack was a huge part of the renaissance of the comic industry.

Joe Simon had bowed to pressure from his son and written a semi-autobiography. The book titled, Comic Book Makers, Crestwood 1990, was part biography and part historical ruminations on the industry and the crazy persons who peopled it. Joe’s memories are sometimes shaky, but never boring as he recalls heroes like Siegel and Shuster, and Mort Meskin, as well as the villains like Victor Fox and Frederick Wertham. The best part was that Joe published a good deal of unseen art, including a whole never before printed Boy Explorers tale. Joe reminiscences of Jack are humorous, illuminating, sometimes confusing but always from the heart. It’s a must read for not just Simon and Kirby fans, but fans of the industry. Joe Simon was undergoing a renaissance of sorts as he became one of the great elder statesmen of the industry, and a wonderful speaker and keen interviewee.

Richard Kyle continued to search for financing for his proposed magazine. Undaunted he could wait no longer, in late 1990, he scraped together enough to publish the second issue of Argosy complete with a Jim Steranko pulp cover, and inside in glorious graphite was Jack’s autobiographical masterpiece. Street Code was finally seen by the public, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Once again Kirby had changed the perception of comic art.

In 1991, The Ruby-Spears studio had been sold to Turner Broadcasting who also owned Hanna-Barbera, and another animation company. This redundancy was wasteful and Turner narrowed this division down to just Hanna-Barbera. Ruby-Spears closed down and Kirby was once more out of work. Jack decided to retire.

Joe Simon was hired to recreate many of his early Captain America covers; they sold for thousands of dollars. Jack was also commissioned to recreate some of his iconic covers. The money was good, and the feedback very encouraging. Among the work was the cover to Captain America #1. Two copies were commissioned as Marvel wanted a copy for their company. Dick Ayers was hired to do the inking. Jack finished them all. It has been reported that the second CA cover was on Jack’s desk when he died—completed.

The grand old man of comics – Joe’s response to Caps supposed death

Jack Kirby had reached a level of celebrity; he was featured on TV shows, did radio interviews, and ruled the many comic cons across the country. Jack hobnobbed with other celebrities such as Frank Zappa. He palled around with Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller. He was even part of a meeting of giants when he and Frank Frazetta were feted with a special night. Often, when an outside project needed a comic book reference or a guest appearance Jack was called on.

Scott Shaw recounts a memorial dinner for Jack that threw them all a curve, with Roz joining in.

”Judy and I were honored to be included at a special party held for Jack by Gary Goddard and Tony Christopher, the wizards behind the theme park designing company Landmark Entertainment; both of them are devoted fans of Jack and his work. A number of local pros were in attendance, including Frank Miller, Neal Adams, Bill Stout, Mark Evanier, Steve Rude and others, but some of us were slightly uncomfortable with the knowledge that Tony had hired a “special” surprise for Jack. After dinner and testimonials, an attractive young lady dressed as Wonder Woman entered the private room. At least she started out dressed as Wonder Woman. The idea of paying a stripper to entertain at a party for Jack seemed in poor taste, but Jack’s attitude somehow completely removed any trace of sleaze from the proceedings! Instead of being flustered by this topless young woman’s obvious endowments Jack acted like he was receiving the keys to the city! “I thank you, you’re a lovely young woman!” Later that night, after the mostly undressed Wonder Woman had her picture taken with Jack, someone asked Roz what she thought. Roz held up the photo. No problem, she said. “I’ll just paste a photo of my face over hers!”

Glad handing

Ahmet Zappa recalls a short meeting of Jack and Frank;

“Jack would come over and smoke cigars and Frank would smoke cigarettes, and they’d talk and talk. One of the things Frank and Jack had in common: the prodigious amount of cosmic goodness that extruded from their respective noggins was not the result of drugs; they both enjoyed tobaccy but only the unwacky. … Jack gave me this Silver Surfer book. I didn’t know what to make of this silver dude on a surfboard; it didn’t make any sense but, he was super cool. This was around the time Empire (StarWars) came out and was HUGE and I remember Jack confided in Frank that he felt like the stories he created helped shape the Star Wars saga, that he saw direct parallels between his characters and the movie’s story arcs.”

In Nov. 1987 Jack received a call from Simone Welch, of Author Services. Artist extraordinaire Frank Frazetta was set to receive an award for his services to the Commercial Art Field. Mrs. Welch asked if Jack would kindly make an appearance to wish Frank congratulations. Now despite both men’s long tenure in the art business, Jack had never met Frank, but he thought it would be an honor to make the acquaintance of an artist he so admired. The Kirby’s contacted Mike Thibodeaux to have him drive them to the Hollywood location. This wasn’t hard since Mike was also a longstanding Frazetta fan. They arrived to find a huge throng in attendance, and navigating the crowd to get closer to Mr. Frazetta was a problem. Jack, perhaps showing some of his Ben Grimm demeanor started to bull his way until they met up with a hostess. Jack explained to the hostess that he would like to see Frank Frazetta. The hostess took the message to Frank and she told him that a Mr. Kirby would like to speak to him. Mike T. remembers it well. “It was like the parting of the Red Sea. The chills overwhelmed my body as I saw these two incredible giants clasp each other hands for the first time. The first words spoken were from Frank saying “Jack, it is an honor to meet you. But if I recall Jack, we did meet once before.”

Frank’s the best

Kirby looked confused. “Forgive me Frank, I don’t remember.”

Frank chuckled, “I didn’t think you would, it was back in 1946, or possibly 47 on the Brighton Beach Subway, I remember it quite clearly. We were coming out of Brooklyn near Newkirk Ave. I noticed you had a portfolio with comic pages. Before I knew it, we were talking to one another. I also vaguely remember seeing original artwork from Captain America”.

Jack replied. “Are you sure it was me?” (It should be noted that Frank was maybe 20 at the time and just beginning his comic career. Jack lived in Brooklyn just after the war. )

Frank laughed, “You’re the short one weren’t you? (Recalling the legendary team of Simon and Kirby)

“With a giant like Joe around, of course I was the short one.” Jack retorted.

After a few more clarifications that showed Jack was there at the time. He graciously changed the subject. Frank said. “Jack, you are truly an inspiration to me.”

Jack replied with modest disbelief. Frank looked surprised and said, “he doesn’t believe me! It is so true that the real greats are always so modest.”

Jack stumbled out a reply. “And look how far you’ve gone, Frank. You’re a superstar!”

Frank asked why Jack had never taken up painting. Jack said his work in penciling was too time consuming for him to diversify to other media. Mike Thibodeaux recalled. “This meeting was fate. Whatever analogies one were to attempt, it all comes down to ….Frank and Jack are the greatest.”

They moved to another room and the families joined together. Frank was humble in accepting the award, a plaque with the simple statement “A culture is only as great as its dreams…and its dreams are dreamt by artists.” The quote was from L. Ron Hubbard – writer and founder of Scientology. I think Frank accepted it for the both of them.

As the evening came to an end, they made plans to meet up again. A couple weeks later, Jack met up with Frank at a page signing of an exclusive Frazetta lithograph. Frank handed Jack a special book signed “To the great Jack Kirby from the great Frank Frazetta.” The book had a special place on the Kirby mantle.

With the growth of the comic collecting industry, and the success of the Superman and Batman movie series, comic characters had crossed over to other medias. Collector cards had become very hot, and the comic companies sought to cash in. Both DC, and Marvel began printing many series of cards featuring characters, comic covers, and pin-up style art. Kirby’s work found a new source. Independent companies made up their own card series, and several featured all-Kirby art—not only comic work but unpublished animation stills. Even Topps provided Kirby drawn cards with their comic books as tie-ins for the new series. A card set was even made featuring prominent comic book creators with Kirby’s photo and Joe Simon.

Plethora of cards

Another outside source was the growing trading pin market. The small pins celebrating the Olympics, and other festivals, as well as Disney creations had become a big business. Marvel, never one to miss a chance to spread their goods hired Planet Studios to make small pins of their characters. They began small with a few selections such as Captain America, Daredevil, Wolverine and others. In 1991, they accelerated their choices by making collectors set devoted just to Jack Kirby. The small set, with two Silver Surfer pins, a Captain America, Hulk, and Thor pins, plus an X-Men pin, done in cloisonné, and a chromed Surfer pin. The back featured a Silver Surfer drawing from the graphic novel with the Surfer done in bright chrome. It was packaged in a small plastic case measuring 5x7x1 inch thick complete with a small Marvel-centric bio of Jack and a signed and numbered panel signed by Jack. I assume. By that time, due to Jack’s health, Roz, or Mark Evanier or others would sign Jack’s name to souvenirs. This may have been the last time that Jack and Marvel collaborated on a product—and one of the few times Jack was rewarded for his work in other media.

From the author’s collection

The action figure industry—which had been producing figures since the early 1970’s really cranked up production in the 1990’s. Every single Kirby character whether DC, or Marvel was produced in multiple versions, and sizes. The likenesses were amazingly accurate and fully poseable. Even small inconsequential characters could be special ordered and created by specialists. Professional studios created busts, and full figures in ceramic, metallic, and other artistic mediums.

Don’t call them dolls – Kirby art never went to waste

In 1989 a sculptor friend proposed a mixed media presentation of Jack’s art. He would sculpt a 3D pewter likeness of one of Jack’s fine art works and sell it as a set with a large limited edition b&w seriograph. They chose Jack’s Jacob and the Angel—a one on one confrontation of a humanoid angel vs. a gruesome techno angel- – for their first case. The artist- Glenn Kolleda worked the San Diego booth with Jack, commissioning sales. After the first piece sold, a second featuring Kirby’s The Beastmaster was planned. During the castings problems arose and the pewter pieces were never finished as the money ran out. Only a few test pieces ever got out; a sad finish to a quality attempt. A friend of mine had helped Glenn at a convention and had prepaid for the Beastmaster piece. He got mad waiting and finally confronted Koledda. He left with a Beastmaster print on acetate and a two-piece firing that when put together made a 3D pewter likeness of the print. He was told it turned out impractical for the piece to be made and he ended up with the prototype.

Jacob and the Angel—Biblio-tech
Beastmaster Kirby does Frazetta

Noted sculptor Randy Bowen produced a large bust of Jack Kirby complete with cigar, in metal and ceramic. It served as a bookmark to a similar job of Stan Lee.

Peter Laird had Jack draw a version of the TMNTs – DC asked for one final Superman

Craig Yoe and his wife Janet love to explore pop culture; their books represent the lunacy, the diversity and the similarities of our artistic tapestry. In 1991 they were assembling a book looking at the various ways Mickey Mouse had and has been represented by artists over the years. They commissioned a diverse group of artists to supply their unique talents to interpret the mouse. One such artist was Jack Kirby. Jack supplied two drawings, inked by Mike Thibodeaux showing Mickey as a super-hero. They were bright, imaginative and energetic showing Mickey with Kirby semi-circular muscles, forced perspective, and a colorful four-color costume. It was just a wonderful homage to Disney and Mickey. The book was called The Art of Mickey Mouse 1991, Hyperion Publications.

Back in 1991, I did a coffee table art book “The Art of Mickey Mouse.” Craig explains his part:

“I got artists from around the world to do their interpretation of “The World’s Favorite Mouse.” One of the first people I called was Jack Kirby. He and his wife Roz were very excited about the idea. He sent me two drawings, as I recall, and I chose this one. I colored it “animation style,” with the black line on an overlay and the background colors underneath.”

Kirby meets the mouse – Mick as the Sorcerer’s super apprentice

There is one area of contention among comic fans. The pose used for the chosen Mickey drawing is a trace of an earlier Kirby drawing with the original costume erased and the new decorative bits such as the costume and colors added later. This process shows up in several Kirby pieces of the time and even ACG, a comic book company used this method on several covers of reprint books featuring characters that Kirby never drew during his career. Some were inked by none other than Joe Sinnott. Some fans screamed at the charade. They were paying for Kirby art, which Kirby might not have ever touched. Did Kirby make the line changes that created the different costumes? This has never really been answered.

Kirby never touched these copped from other characters – original template for Mickey

A local writer by the name of Ray Wyman, Jr. approached Jack about producing a biography. For many hours they met, talked, and shared experiences. The result, called The Art of Jack Kirby (Blue Rose 1992) is an interesting though flawed attempt at a biography. It suffers from a problem that other biographies have—they rely too much on the verbal history from the subject rather than starting from a checked and rechecked timeline. The remembrances are great but accuracy might have been better. Ray did manage to get to the Kirby soul at times and his work is indispensable. The checklists are next to hopeless as the accrued mistakes make it unreadable, but the graphics are first rate and the Kirby anecdotes are priceless. It also suffers from crass interference in that the cover is a piece of junk cobbled together by Turtle creator/ Kirby lover Kevin Eastman. This was his reward for fronting some of the money.

It should also be mentioned that since the late ‘60’s, Kirby had been working on a novel. Tentatively titled The Horde, Kirby worked and reworked the piece until he gave up out of frustration and piled on feelings of fear and apprehension. The book presents a scary premise of a mass uprising from out of the East. Kirby felt the ending was becoming too horrifyingly real and it worried him. He reached a point and couldn’t go further. Sadly, perhaps at the top of the list of never finished Kirby projects. In appreciation, the Kirby’s gave the novel to Ray for the good work he did on the biography. Ray tried to cobble it together. Professional editor Janet Berliner tried to piece the manuscript into a workable whole. She managed to get a few chapters published and Ray and his partner have attempted to finish the work. Time will tell if it ever sees print.

Indispensible but flawed

The late Eighties were a renaissance period for comics. Sales had picked up, the new creators made comics cool again and new companies were sprouting up like weeds. Going into the Nineties, everyone wanted part of the new growth. Topps was a card company; most famous for their baseball cards, Topps was the company that Jack had supplied some art for in 1961. They had managed to expand over the years into other genres such as Mars Attacks, Garbage Pail Kids, and even comic related card series. Len Brown was now the head of Topps. Len had a career that had touched on comics when he wrote some books for Tower Comics and Creepy Magazine. He had long thought of getting Topps into comics. Marvel had also gotten into the card business when they bought Fleer Sports Card Company in 1992. Now the shoe was reversed. Topps didn’t have to spend millions to get into the comic business, just hire a guy with connections. Len Brown hired Jim Salicrup to run the comics division. Jim had been an editor at Marvel and had overseen some of the largest selling series in comic history. They were hesitant about jumping into the superhero market, it was very crowded, and the thinking was to try to find a niche all to them. Their first offering was an adaptation of Dracula- a very classy project; then some Ray Bradbury adaptations. Some people approached Topps with some licensed Kirby material, and Jim thought to himself, Kirby was different than what the market was pushing. The heroes had become as dark and vicious as the villains. Heroes were no longer heroic. “Kirby to me was never anything like that–it was all very heroic, very noble with a lot of solid underlying moral values.”

Checking out hi-quality prints

“We all wanted to talk to Jack directly. So the Topps people flew to California and began negotiations with Jack and Roz,” Jim says while working with Jack that he began to understand how Kirby had let himself be screwed so many times in the comic biz. “There’s a part of him that’s just so sweet and trusting that in the back of my mind I was thinking, if we weren’t offering a really great deal, it almost would be too easy to take advantage of this guy- he’s so nice. In terms of the deal we struck, it was a deal he originally tried to get with DC. Go over to a publisher, sell a bunch of ideas, and then get people like Steve Ditko, Don Heck and the old Marvel gang to actually draw the material.” They settled on several series and a group of one-shots to introduce the characters. The series were The Secret City, and Satan’s Six, and the one-shots introduced Bombast, Glida, and Captain Glory – The Triad Cell. The premise is that Mankind as we know it is the latest incarnation of humanity. Mankind reaches a point every 15,000 years where its technology overtakes its reason and it destroys itself. The previous civilization perished with the floods of Noah, but not before several people had been entombed in a form of suspended animation to be reborn to teach the new humans not to continue to make the same mistakes. During an earthquake the three suspended people were awakened and find themselves in modern day Chicago. This stranger in a strange land concept had been done many times, but it offers lots of avenues for mistrust and misunderstanding to cause havoc in their lives.

Jim Salicrup, Roy Thomas and even Steve Ditko helped out

Roy Thomas was brought in to write the series, and Ditko, Heck, and Dick Ayers along with some newer artists did the art. The Secret City Saga was a mess, many too many hands in this pie, plus another new title Victory that was supposed to wrap all of the Kirbyverse together was unfinished. This brought in Captain Victory and Silver Star to join in the fun. It was a nice tribute to Jack, but it was an abortion of a concept.

The other series, Satan’s Six had a more unique premise. It centered on six souls condemned to Hell, but try as they might, they can’t do bad. Every evil concern they try ends up doing well. And the devil won’t accept them until they do something really bad. This is a book that needed someone truly twisted like Steve Gerber to write. The characters are funny and the art was wacky but the plots were so dreary. Tony Isabella didn’t do twisted. The only saving grace was that Jack had drawn eight pages of art that was sandwiched into the initial issue.

Presentation piece

In a mixture of sadness and happiness, Jack ran into Dashing Don Heck at a comic convention. The two old pros happily embraced and recounted old times. Don, a much remembered architect of the Marvel legend had been relegated to the trash heap of comic artists a while back, yet Jack loved and admired Don’s work. Don talked about the hard times, yet told Jack that he had received his largest royalty check ever from his work on Jack’s Secret City series. Jack was so happy, and bragged on his old friend the whole day. Jim Salicrup was amazed when Jack exuberantly thanked him for the series and for hiring his old friend. Salicrup could only mutter that it was Jack Kirby that deserved all the thanks. Writer Tony Isabella could only agree with Don, despite past glories at Marvel, his royalty check from Secret City was his largest.

According to Len Brown; “The first batch of Kirby books sold very well. The line started out like a house on fire! We billed over a million dollars, so we said “Hey this is easy stuff!” But these were the boom years with speculators buying number 1’s probably inflating sales. Sales dropped off quickly.” Jim Salicrup bemoans; The writing was on the wall for the series in very short order. The premature cancellation of Silver Star and Victory was something that lead to changes in how I would continue to be involved with the company. I became Associate Publisher and put through a plan that I never again wanted us to publish one issue of something and just cancel it. I would have sooner not have published it at all and wait for a later time.”

Kirby provided some covers and a few pages

Unknown to many, Jack was diagnosed with throat cancer. Kirby responded well to the chemo; Steve Sherman says that Jack was the only person he ever knew who didn’t lose his hair from the chemo. But Jack was weakened.

Jack was not in the best of health, and had seriously considered not attending the 1992 Con. But with some gentle nudging by friends he relented and he and Roz attended. Unknown to Jack, his friends had arranged a big function to honor Jack and Roz’s 50th anniversary. It was the bash of the season with tickets being the most sought after item at the Con. Jack and Roz restated their wedding vows and danced to a big band orchestra. It was a glorious event with both Jack and Roz overwhelmed by the attention.

The Kirbyverse had died, but Jack never let it worry him. He was well paid for the concepts and had no hand in the actual production, so he didn’t blame himself. Just as it ended, a new project arose. Mike Thibodeaux started self-publishing with a company called Genesis West. The first comic published was called Phantom Force – a concept created by Mike and Jack during the Last of the Viking Heroes series. Jack and Mike had been pondering working together, and when they started to flesh out the characters of Phantom Force, Kirby drew some conceptual drawings. Then as Mike says “Jack got carried away drawing the first book. He was only going to do a couple pages, and he ended up drawing the whole book. That’s how he worked.”

Thibodeaux took the pages to the San Diego Comic Con to ink; he was spotted by Rob Liefeld who made a suggestion. “Let me put this through Image, and since you have the pencils….” Image was a brand new publishing company started by a select group of hot young artists who had made their mark at Marvel, mostly working on Spider-Man and X-Men titles. Rebelling against the plantation mentality of the large corporate structure, they decided to band together and start their own company where each creator would be responsible and rewarded for their own creations. It was a set-up that Kirby had championed for years.

Rob wrote;

“I am still absolutely fanatical where Jack Kirby is concerned and when the opportunity to publish Jack’s final unpublished work came about, it was an opportunity I could not pass up.

“The opportunity came about through a meeting with Mike Thibodeaux at the 1992 San Diego convention. Mike approached me about inking a Jack Kirby illustration. I was elated! I asked Mike if he had other Jack pencils and he told me of a project called Phantom Force. He said it was the last story Jack completely penciled and that since he co-owned it with Jack that he was able to shop it around on his behalf. Mike originally intended to publish Phantom Force with his own label… but was excited at any mention of bringing it to Image.”

Image had proposed that they would turn the art over to a multitude of artists for each to provide their own take over Jack’s pencils. Unfortunately, with that many pages spread over this wide country Mike was having trouble keeping it all organized. The first advertized deadline came and passed without any product. Unfortunately, the word of mouth had been fantastic and presold orders were thru the roof. It was canceled and reordered; which is always a killer. The book never saw day until more than a year later with a cover date Dec. 1993.

With the backing of Image, and the subsequent publicity, Phantom Force was a guaranteed smash. The first solicitation reached nearly one million units, but when the project was delayed for 6 months, the resolicitation was nowhere near as good. Though not a million seller, the comic sold very well, and the various pages of Kirby pencils inked by the hottest artists in the business was a nice homage. Mike quickly followed this issue up with one by Genesis West. Jack’s vision of the series was a large series of interlocking stories built around the central characters and a few others that they had planned called Malibu Maniacs. Unfortunately Mike is not as quick an artist as Jack was and his output was inconsistent. There was some discussion about a possible cartoon based on Phantom Force but the owners of the costumed hero the Phantom raised a stink quickly stalling any such project.

Rob Liefeld’s plans were slightly different; he saw this project as a way of paying tribute to Jack’s legacy. Rob wanted to have these pages inked, sequentialed, and printed gratis to Jack. Steve Oliff, and Olyoptics would do the coloring. Just like Destroyer Duck was to help Gerber, Phantom Force #1 was to be a present to help Jack during his retirement. Rob said;

“We do it out of respect for the paths Jack blazed for us, Jack’s involvement with a comic company called Pacific Comics was absolutely integral to the eventual formation of Image comics. Through Jack’s efforts, creators’ rights were brought to the forefront of the industry. As a result, the business of comics would change with artists now receiving royalties as a part of their earnings. We could never thank Jack and the others involved in Pacific Comics enough!”

Jim Valentino another Image founder spoke more from the heart. When asked why he wanted to be a part, he said;

“Jack the man: Jack Kirby is one of the most generous and gracious men I have ever encountered. He always has time for his fans; always willing to answer the same dumb questions without agitation, always quick with an anecdote or a story. His demeanor, as well as his obvious devotion to his beloved Roz, has been as strong an inspiration to me as his artwork. My admiration for this man, both personal and profession cannot be understated. For me he is, was and forevermore shall be, a king among men.”

A little dark for me – Mick Gray inks over Kirby

Jack attended the 1993 San Diego Comic Con and worked the Topps booth selling the Kirbyverse books. Gene Colan, a dear friend and fellow artist stopped by to say hello. Gene recalls that Jack’s usual vigor was gone. He lacked his sense of humor and recall. Jack‘s heart was still giving him fits and he had a series of small strokes, that he seemed to bounce back from easily. But his vitality wasn’t there until… After an awards banquet there was a stir among the crowd and from the center emerged Stan Lee. It had been several years since the Comic Journal interview, but Jack and Stan had not seen each other. The crowd reacted nervously not knowing if fireworks might be going off soon. But Kirby, in his usual manner called Stan over and gave him a big hug and Stan says that Kirby told him something. “He called me over and he said… and again, I felt Jack wasn’t fully with it, you know… he said to me -sternly- “You have nothing to reproach yourself about Stan” And it was such… kind of a strange thing for him to say. I was glad to hear it, but I didn’t expect it.” It seems this was Kirby’s stilted way of saying to let the past go.

Even before he died Jack had one last chance to be recognized for his accomplishments. In late 1993, Jack made a guest appearance on the Bob show; Bob Newhart’s 3rd sitcom. The episode was called “You Can’t Win” and Newhart played a comic book artist who meets up with a plethora of Comic Book greats at a convention. Besides Jack and Roz Kirby there are a dozen other Golden Age greats. Jack had a speaking role. It was a wonderful evening for Jack to catch up with old friends, and some new ones.

In one last gesture, Marvel okayed Jack recreating some of his iconic covers for sale. Jack produced about 15 titles and these were auctioned off by Sotheby’s Auction House. Some were inked by Dick Ayers, and some by Kirby. They averaged about $6,000 dollars at auction. There has been some controversy as it has been said that Jack was incapable of drawing these, so they were ghost drawn by somebody. The only evidence I have seen seems to point to Jack doing these with possibly some help in the shading and technical areas (Comic Code Stamps, Logos, etc.)

Recreation of Amazing Fantasy #15 cover

Steve Sherman recalls that early in 1994, he stopped by the Kirby house. Jack looked down and lacking in energy. Jack leaned over to Steve and quietly said. “That’s it, I’m done.” When pressed by Steve Jack reiterated, “I’m done.” No fanfare, just a quiet resignation. No one knew Jack like Jack. It was over. Steve explained. “He was 77 years old, so it was about time.” His health was failing, his hair was now snow white—yet thick and full as ever. His new answer to the same old questions was” You can read it. It’s in the books, go read it.” Jack knew his legacy and that it was secure.

The Phantom Force series limped along with the occasional Kirby cover. But Kirby no longer had the will. Mike recalled; “I remember him one time saying he wanted to draw. He wanted to create. I think this was so ingrained in his soul. These are the things I remember him talking about, just wanting to draw again. Those last few months he wasn’t doing anything at all.” Halfway through the series, the heart of the man who always gave everything to others no longer gave to him. Jack died on Sunday Feb. 6, 1994. Roz found him crumpled on the kitchen floor and knew immediately that he was gone. She called 911, and then she called Mike Thibodeaux, and she asked him to make the phone calls. His passing wasn’t dramatic; there was no last great drawing on his board, he didn’t die with his pencil in his hand. He passed quietly and with dignity and fairly painlessly while maintaining his routine.

Jack’s last work- a nod to Star Wars?

Stan Lee, after some confusion, attended the funeral, he warmly greeted Roz, he sat in the back and left quietly after the burial. For once there was no fanfare, no screaming fans, and no huckstering, just a sad man saying goodbye to a dear partner. After the maddening rush of well wishers, Stan visited Roz and they spent a pleasant evening talking bygone days. Some tears were shed.

Elliot Maggin, an industry pro had about the best anecdote of Jack’s funeral.

“Virtually all of the villains Jack created were Nazi analogs. He served in World War II and was horrified by the news that came out about the camps in the days following the beginning of the liberation. So the chapel at Jack’s funeral was full of comics pros and fans, and of Jack’s big family. I was one of the pros, I guess. The first speaker at the funeral was a nephew, who loved Jack dearly (it was easy to do) but who clearly was not an initiate. He was much more familiar with his uncle than with his work. This kid opened with an anecdote which he began quite apologetically saying “There’s something you’ve got to understand about Uncle Jack. The thing is he just hated Nazis, in whatever guise they appeared,” and most of the congregation hit the floor laughing. This was not a crowd who needed to be reminded that Jack Kirby hated Nazis”

After Jack died, Greg Theakston proposed a memorial. Greg took the penciled pages of Heroes and Villains, around to a who’s who of inkers and allowed each one to ink a Kirby page to their own style. The result was called The Black Magic Edition of Kirby’s Heroes and Villains. Greg explained; “Heroes and Villains became a memorial project, and I was determined to produce it on schedule. I thought the best way for people to deal with Jack’s passing would be to review his career with the drawings in this volume. Roz wanted it to go ahead, so that cinched it

It is ironic that with Jack’s passing, the industry also went into mourning. The sales surge that crested in the late Eighties-known as the speculators market- imploded and disappeared almost overnight. Marvel had a mass layoff, and dropped from 110 titles to around 50. In Dec. 1994, Marvel fired half its editorial staff, and canceled even more titles. The industry was in dire straits, and more than one editor was heard to say. “What we need now is a Jack Kirby to lift us back up.” Unfortunately there was only one of those Jack Kirby types, and he was gone. In a way though Jack did help Marvel to rebound– Hollywood finally came a calling, and with serious talent and money. A series of big films starring the X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the Hulk exploded on the screens and were huge blockbusters. Kirby’s visions of seeing his creations on the silver screen had come true. And with it Marvel once again prospered. The comic division was a shadow of its old self. Sales were pitiful and it seemed the comics were more important as shills for the movies then as serious entertainment for kids to read. In 2009, Marvel was bought by the Disney Corp. Kirby’s creations were big time, the Estate had to fight for a begrudging credit on the films and, at least some recognition was nice at least not in fame or fortune. It should express to all that he was, indeed, the “King”…. of his small pittance rather than proper royalties. Some things never change.

Jack’s gravestone was unveiled, Mark Evanier looked at is somewhat unconvinced. Mark realized the problem and told his fellow mourners. “Jack’s gravestone ought to be the size of a billboard…in full-color with explosions and rockets and super-heroes all over it.” “The sign that identifies where the remains of Jack are interred should announce to all that the man thereon identified gave us all he had to give for over a half-century, dedicating his life to an industry that did not always return as good as he gave.

For several years after Jack’s death, Roz would still attend the San Diego Comic Con, where she was treated like royalty. She was veritably the King’s queen. In 1997, a huge 75th birthday party was thrown for Roz, and all her friends were there. Lisa said; “she was really shining during that time; she was so appreciative of everybody being there.” Roz never really understood that the love of Jack Kirby also meant the love of Roz Kirby.

In happy fun lovin’ times

Mark Evanier called her one day to tell her that the Fourth World books had been reprinted and published by DC, and that they were selling very well. To which Roz simply replied, “Jack always said they would.”

A few months later she caught a cold that traveled to her chest, lungs ravaged with the effects of a life with asthma. Lungs that had gasped and fought for breath could not take the extra strain. After telling Mike Thibodeaux a warm goodnite at the hospital she passed on Dec. 22, 1997. On Friday, Dec. 26, the service was held, and Roz was eulogized as the equal partner of her husband and a mother and friend without peer. It ended with Mark Evanier saying, “Today we’re all sad to lose her. But we’re glad he’s got her back.”

Two children of the gray New York ghetto, who clawed and fought their way out were buried together on a California mountain basking in the sunshine.

I have trouble when it comes to Jack Kirby’s legacy. On one hand, I look to a comic industry shrinking smaller and smaller with nothing new being generated. Most mainstream comics seem to be advertisements for movies, cartoons or other paraphernalia—endlessly rehashing old characters and plots. No one has come forward and claimed the mantle of creativity that Jack left. I see a hobby with no leader and no hope. Perhaps other technologies have come and claimed the youthful attention once spent on comics. Have comics finally reached their predicted quiet ending? Yet on the other hand I see Kirby’s ideas blossom on a larger more venerated area. Besides the earlier Fantastic Four movies, and X-Men and Hulk, we now have seen excellent Iron Man, and Thor, and Captain America movies put out by major producers, though with little mention of Jack Kirby. Have Kirby’s ideas finally reached their promised proportion?

Reprints abound

I also see old companies filling the shelves with reprints of Kirby’s work with the estate getting a cut.

As to new comics; there might be hope. I also see where some of the great creators are getting together to produce a new Kirbyverse in comicdom. Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross of Marvels fame and others have combined for a fresh look at Kirby’s sole creations. The focus seems rightly to be placed on story over aping Jack’s style. Here’s their press release;

The team that brought you the classic “Marvels” returns with a super salute to Jack Kirby and the Kirbyverse via Dynamite Entertainment: “Kirby: Genesis.” This May, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross — along with Jack Herbert on finished art over layouts by Ross — introduce Kirby heroes like Silver Star, Captain Victory, and others to a new generation of fans. And to make it easy for new readers to jump on, the 32-page first issue will have a $1.00 introductory price.

They seem to be of a right mind to do it justice, though I wonder if late Kirby is the ideal jumping off point. My own preference might be a new look at Boy’s Ranch. I am fond of the special offering price; best of luck to all of them. My one scary aspect is that Alex Ross seems to be channeling Neal Adams, not Jack Kirby for the artwork. They do have a sense of humor. Look at the inset on the black and white satellite drawing and note the Kirby drawn Jupiter plaque attached. There have been reboots of Captain Victory and others that led to nothing, but it’s hard not to trust the talent involved on this project.

Lisa Kirby’s lamented attempt at a Kirbyverse – Alex Ross’ Marvels

Alex Ross – Jack Herbert

Kirby Genesis

Proposed artwork

Kurt Busiek
Note inset Jack would have been happy

Looking further at new comics, I do see that Mike Thibodeaux is still mining old Kirby drawings with this up and comer along with longtime partner Richard Fench.

New Kirby – old Kirby in Phantom Force – Ongoing Kirby fanbook

Of course there’s a story. Michael and David first created the concept of The Potential in 1983. At this time, Michael was inking Jack Kirby’s pencils for the Captain Victory comic book series.  While working in Kirby’s studio one day, Michael showed Kirby the cover he had penciled for the first issue of The Potential.  With his typical enthusiasm, Jack not only critiqued the pencils, but quickly sketched out his own version of the cover for the first issue!

Strangely enough even Ruby-Spears in conjunction with Sid and Marty Kroft are searching out ways for Kirby’s old presentation pieces be fulfilled and reach the screen. “I love comic books, but this is a treasure,” said Ariel Z. Emanuel, the co-chief executive of the William Morris Endeavor Entertainment agency, who is representing these Kirby works for Ruby-Spears and the Kroffts. “It’s like a boat sunk at the bottom of the ocean, and all of a sudden you’ve uncovered it.” During his time with Ruby-Spears, Mr. Kirby was employed under a work-for-hire agreement, which means that his work is the property of the studio, lawyers for the partnership said. Marc Toberoff, a copyright lawyer representing the Kirbys in their suit against Marvel and Disney, said that he reviewed Mr. Kirby’s agreement with Ruby-Spears and that he believed any art produced under it was work for hire. This affords Ruby-Spears and the Kroffts a wide berth to turn their Kirby properties into movies, television shows, comics, videos games and more — all of which they intend to pursue.

I would be remiss not to mention that Kirby, and only Kirby has a fannish magazine that has been published non-stop for over 15 years. The Jack Kirby Collector, with over 50 issues, may be the only type of its kind focused only on one artist exclusively. There are also several e-site letter blogs built around Jack Kirby, so though we may be a small community—we are noisy!

Several of Twomorrows’ Kirby books

Though I am pessimistic about Kirby’s comic legacy, I do see where other aspects of Kirby have taken root and entered our psyche, or at least a segment of pop psychology.

Percussionist Gregg Bendian was so moved by Jack Kirby that he produced a tribute to Jack Kirby.

JazzTimes: How did you translate Kirby’s sis-boom-bah images into notation/notes?

There was some literal translation into sound. The album starts with the sonic equivalent of a Kirby energy blast, replete with the vibes and guitar issuing forth crackling sparks, flying off in every direction. The drama, the very large dramatic scope of events, the violent confrontations, the otherworldly-ness, all inspired my writing of this music. The idea of having each piece cover a different approach to jazz composition was inspired by Jack’s incredibly varied output as an artist. Ultimately, I tried to capture that exciting feeling from childhood where I’d pick up a comic book and become completely ensconced in another world of the imagination.

JazzTimes: Your compositions seem to focus on the spacier aspects of Kirby’s work, the psychedelic sci-fi he was so renown for.

I don’t think we focused on the spacey in particular. [Our song] “New Gods” gets very violent during the battle section. So does “The Mother Box.” Then there’s the rattling metal of the prepared vibes and the steel guitar on ”Air Above Zenn-La.” I went for a large scale of emotions and textures ranging from the small to the gigantic. That’s another nod to the breadth of Kirby’s creative power.

I’ve always felt that Interzone [guitarist Nels Cline, drummer Alex Cline, bassist Joel Hamilton] was a bit like my own little Fantastic Four, each contributing a distinct musical identity and using our powers for the benefit of all creative music listeners!

JazzTimes: Was Kirby a jazz fan? He was certainly as prolific as some jazz artists!

I was unable to find out about his musical tastes apart from knowing that he and his wife went to hear Sinatra on one of their first dates. [Comic artist Jim] Steranko tells me that Jack often worked with the TV on in the background and not music.

Like jazz, comics are a uniquely American art form. And I do think of Kirby as a “jazz artist.” He was an energetic, passionate man—certainly no cold, calculating draftsman. As Mark Evanier, his assistant, tells in his liner notes, Jack would sit down at the page with a theme in mind and a pencil in hand, and allow his imagination to run wild. Often the results would surprise even him. Kind of reminds me of Coltrane saying he couldn’t play a transcription of his solos after the fact, because “they’re too hard.”

JazzTimes: Is Kirby the Charlie Parker of comics? His co-creation/refinement of sequential art seems on par with Parker’s co-creation/refinement of bebop.

I think of Kirby as a Coltrane figure. Like Trane, he was a virtuoso and so prolific. Like Trane, his early work defined the parameters of what that form would become for all that followed. Sadly, also like Trane, his later, most personal and abstract work—Jack’s Mister Miracle or Trane’s Interstellar Space—is considered by many to be self- indulgent and lacking coherence. But I don’t think the artist/visionary can help but move into more and more challenging areas, and so I say wrong in both cases.

He invented the graphic novel. Check out the films of Spielberg, Lucas, Ridley Scott and you’ll see Kirbyesque cities, spacecraft, aliens and villains. He was a wellspring of creative ideas, a visionary of sci-fi concepts. He is famous for being able to draw an intricately detailed page as fast as Bird could play an equally detailed solo.

JazzTimes: Do you see parallels between jazz fans and comic book fans—the zealotry, the passion, however misplaced it may be at times?

Yes, and a wonderful result of doing this record is hearing from Interzone fans that say, “I’m a huge comic fan and a jazz fan, and thanks for combining the two worlds!” That’s very gratifying, since I had this feeling I wasn’t alone in sensing the connection between the two. I recently received a note from Sonny Rollins, who heard the Requiem and said he’s pleasantly surprised by all the jazz people who are also Kirby fans!

Hey, with the Michael Chabon book winning the Pulitzer, this stuff is becoming damned near respectable!

There is a small sub-culture of UFOologist who seek to make Jack Kirby an almost god by cherry-picking his stories and granting him prescience.

By Christopher Knowles;

“As uncomfortable as it is for some of his fans and friends to admit, Jack Kirby was a true believer in AAT (Ancient Astronaut Theory) and intervention theory. The scope of his comics work from the early 70s to his retirement is in this regard – the man was obsessed with gods from space.

So why is this important? Why do the beliefs of some old cartoonist who’s been dead for 15 years matter now? Well, Kirby is one of the primary architects of popular culture today. Kirby’s influence on comics is inarguable- as it is on superhero culture in general.

But so is his influence on Hollywood. James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (particularly), Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino and any other sci-fi mogul you can name today fed at Kirby’s rich trough as kids. In fact, the quick cut/high intensity of action movies today comes directly from Kirby’s Marvel work like The Fantastic Four. I see Kirby’s influence all over video game design as well. You simply have to go back and look at pop culture before the Marvel Age and after, and the centrality of Kirby’s imagination in the recreation of visual storytelling becomes clear as crystal.

And if Kirby is part of the essential DNA of pop culture, so then are his beliefs. You need look no further than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to see it- the entire tableau was simply a big budget replay of the first issue of The Eternals.
Remember- Spielberg and Lucas are the two of the most powerful men in Hollywood today, certainly from a creative standpoint. Even beyond the films they make themselves they have their fingers in countless pies through their production and technical interests.

More importantly, we have very strange indications of Jack Kirby’s precognitive/psychic abilities, specifically in regards to events central to the Synchromystic worldview.

For instance:
Depicting a Face on Mars 17 years before the Viking photos.
Depicting a 2001 “Stargate” scenario 10 years before the film.
• Depicting a Saddam Hussein/Gulf Wars scenario in 1975
Depicting 9/11 scenarios 17 years before the fact.
Depicting SETI and proffering a man/alien union years before Carl Sagan.
Kirby’s part in the CIA rescue of the American hostages.

Given these synchronicities, I believe it’s important to take his AAT obsession in so far as explicit depictions of AAT, but nearly all of Kirby’s work from 1975 on dealt with aliens, UFOs, interdimensional travel, time travel, genetic engineering and space colonization and on and on. But it’s very seriously. We’ve looked at The Eternals, Devil Dinosaur, and 2001: A Space Odyssey

Shades of 9/11

Kirby’s 1980 Bible portfolio that we’ll be looking at today, which is 1000% Astro-Gnostic at its core.

The first plate depicts God in the standard Sistine Chapel mode, an old, bearded white guy emerging from primordial chaos, accompanied by a heavenly host. So far, so good right? But this celestial being is remote, celestial- more like the Monad of Gnostic mythology than the engaged creator of Judeo-Christian dogma.

What we see emanating from the chaos with him resemble the Aeons. They come from the same source, but are in fact on their own trajectory, away from the Monad

Here the Monad sees Earth and humanity as a ball of sin; lust, greed, hate and other expressions of the Ego, which are separate from Monad. It is a fallen state, the cosmic abortion…

Which the Monad then turns his back on humanity to contemplate non-Euclidean geometry- the other-dimensional interests of cosmic divinity. Mankind then begs of the Monad. But who takes his place in the stewardship of our tiny, insignificant planet?

Well, that’s a no-brainer. Here Kirby reimagines Joshua’s genocidal attack on Jericho as the vanguard of an alien assault employing sonic weaponry.

Are these Biblical androids the result of Kirby’s vast and fertile imagination, or is there some basis for these concepts in the ancient literature?

AAT scholar Jason Martell notes that the Anunaki of Sumerian lore had a servant class called the Igigi, whom he believes could actually be the Greys of UFO lore. These creatures have been described as a kind of wetware, biologically-engineered androids: Some have also called the Agigi the Watchers, much like Kirby’s Watchers.

Martell: “Today’s modern UFO’s and Alien Contacts being reported have a strong similarity to the Ancient descriptions of the “anunnaki” Android Beings. When we look at the descriptions of our modern “grey alien”, we can clearly see that they do not look like us, or the anunnaki. Rather, they look like the ancient humanoid depictions of Figurines. The majority of Abduction cases usually have a similar story to them in that the Aliens abducting them will perform medical examination and sometimes experiments having to do with human reproduction.

Is it possible that the Greys were created by the anunnaki as “Watchers” to oversee their experiments here on earth. Jewish religion also had a class of Watchers.”

This makes a lot of sense. Maybe the Greys are not from somewhere else- they were left here to keep an eye on the Project when the Anunaki were called back home. This would explain why these types of beings are in the world’s folklore and mythology.

Maybe we’re not projecting a technological viewpoint on elves and fairies and leprechauns after all. Maybe the folklore is the filter on a reality we had no framework for before we had technology (or maybe the Greys like to play dress-up and mess with people’s heads)

Again, I realize that’s not a very fashionable notion these days, but it’s one that makes sense to me. And of course, all of this remains in the realm of speculation, but what a boring world this would be without that.

It’s impossible with the last paragraph to be sure if Mr. Knowles was actually pulling our leg or not, but Kenn Thomas, a publisher and essayist on all paranormal things, talks about Kirby’s prescience quite often in his speeches.

Christopher Knowles expounds on Kirby and many more topics – he also expounds on music

A nice later symbolic page from Devil Dinosaur

From Neatorama:

From a Harvey anthology title in 1957 – My pal Kenn who assisted me

“The above is a great example of collision between pop culture and conspiracy theories. An upcoming talk by Kenn Thomas, one of the more level-headed conspiracy theorists, looks at the links between a story written by comic book legend Jack Kirby, for the comic Race for the Moon, (above) and The Face on Mars – the story coming decades before the feature was discovered.(LOL—Kenn being called level-headed- sorry editor)

“When Steamshovel Press editor Kenn Thomas speaks on “JFK to UFO” at RetroCon, his prefatory remarks will concern “Jack Kirby, Conspiracy Theorist”. Thomas looks at the famous comic book artist’s interest in parapolitics as well as the possibilities that Kirby had back channel sources within the world of covert intelligence. Richard Hoagland speculated that the secret space program gave Kirby information leading to the artist’s 1958 comic book story, “The Face On Mars”–an anomaly that did not become part of the conspiracy lexicon until the Viking probe’s Cydonia photographs of 1976.

Can you see the similarity?

Thomas examines the history of this as well as Kirby’s prescient forecasts of American involvement in World War II and Vietnam; the use of conspiracy themes in his 1970s comics; and his documented involvement with a CIA rescue operation during the 1980 Iranian crisis.

How does central intelligence shape our view of conspiracies in the popular culture? “

Does this mean the CIA knows we are about to be visited by 2,000 feet tall alien Gods? Or Devil Dinosaurs?

Kirby’s Face on Mars story seems to have been the basis for the movie Mission to Mars with Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle et al in 2000. Movies like The Matrix, and He-Man also seem to be searching for that Kirby panache.

The face on Mars tells a story

You know you have reached a level of celebrity when there have been tabloid stories of children channeling the life-force and artistic talent of the dead artist. The Weekly World News dated Apr. 16, 1996 reported “Ghost of Dead Comic Book Artist Teaching Me How to Draw” He has reached legend. Could saint-hood or canonization be far removed?

Perhaps a sure sign of continuing legacy is when one of your creation, characters or concepts is applied to a new project to give it a sense of magnitude and gravitas. Joshua Glenn is a writer, philosopher, and conceptualist who calls himself a “semiotician”. He writes an ongoing column for the Boston Globe newspaper in their Ideas section. One of his fascinations has been an attempt to reperiodize the 20th Century into a cohesive set of generations to show the changes of thought and passions. His most recent suggestions as published and distributed throughout the internet:

1884-93: The New Kids
1894-1903: Hardboiled Generation
1904-13: Partisans
1914-23: The New Gods
1924-33: Postmodernist Generation
1934-43: Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
1954-63: OGX (Original Generation X)
1964-73: PC Generation
1974-83: Net Generation
1984-93: Millennials
1994-2003: TBA

Note number 4, (1914-23) It is no coincidence that Glenn named it after Jack’s greatest creation. Many have adopted Tom Brokaw’s title “The Greatest Generation” when talking about this group, but Glenn thinks they deserve better.

“Throughout their lives, they have been America’s confident and rational problem-solvers: victorious soldiers and Rosie the Riveters; Nobel laureates; makers of Minuteman missiles, interstate highways, Apollo rockets, battleships and miracle vaccines; the creator’s of Disney’s Tommorowland; “men’s men” who have known how to get things done…World War II provided them with a coming-of-age slingshot, a catharsis more heroic and empowering than any since the American Revolution…No other generation this century has felt (or been) so Promethean, so godlike in its collective, world-bending power.”

It is no coincidence that the atomic bomb, and the polio vaccine came from the same generation. As did Ted Williams and William Burroughs.

Glenn explains;

“Is it any wonder that I find “Greatest” an insufficient superlative for this generation of Americans? By all accounts, they’re not mere mortals; they’re homo superior. That is to say — they’re superheroes! On the surface they may have looked square, in their gray flannel suits, fedoras, and horn-rimmed glasses. But really they were heroic, empowered, godlike. They seem to have operated in two registers — the everyday and the mythical — simultaneously.”

“This generation produced only one president, but it was John F. Kennedy, who brought the “best and the brightest” into the White House, faced down the Soviet Union, and put a man on the moon. Astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn are members of this generation; so is faster-than-sound test pilot Chuck Yeager.”

“The 1914-23 generation came of age during the Depression, during which time they were kept busy by the Civilian Conservation Corps “getting things done, building things that worked, things that have lasted to this day,” as it’s been admiringly put. (Members of the older Partisan cohort, meanwhile, engaged in sit-down strikes in assembly-line industries, and questioned the inevitability of capitalism.) As adults, the 1914-23 generation fought World War II; note that a handful of Americans born in 1924, like George H.W. Bush, saw action in the war, and are honorary members of this generation. After the war, they saved American industry, tamed the business cycle, built the suburbs and moved into them. “

It was also this generation that brought forth the super-hero comic—which offered up a new vision of man, one which offered justice, truth and a vision of mankind never imagined before. It’s contribution to the arts was uplifting and grand in its vision.

“Beginning in 1938 with the debut of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman in DC’s “Action Comics” no. 1, and continuing through the Forties, superheroes as we know them today were invented and refined, and the comic book made its debut as a mainstream art form. Americans born between 1914 and 1923 — including comics editors, writers, and artists like Joe Simon, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Will Eisner, Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, and Sheldon Mayer and Jack Kirby — gave us the original incarnations of Superman and Batman, Captain America, Plastic Man, The Spirit, etc.” Stan Lee and Jack “King” Kirby would later give us the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, The Watcher, Magneto, the Inhumans, and many more iconic characters. “

“In Kirby’s honor, I’ve named his entire generation after “The New Gods,” a short-lived comic book series that he created for DC in 1971. Kirby’s New Gods are a race who lives outside of normal time and space in a dimension called the Fourth World. Although they resemble homo sapiens, they are stronger, faster, and smarter. They possess superior technology; they are immortal. They are, in short, the greatest.

For good, or bad it was this generation that pushed the envelope in philosophy, politics, music, the arts, and sports that define the 20th Century and Glenn concludes that it was a Kirby creation that best spotlights it.

I find the designation comforting, but when I peruse Glenn’s long list of New Goder’s, another pattern emerges. It is one I had noted before, rather than New Gods, I think it might be more accurate to call it the Second Gens in recognition of just how many of the great people were second generation of the immigrants and slaves that arrived at the turn of the century; a second wave of yearning and wandering outcasts. Jews, Poles, Italians, Irish, blacks and others suddenly became the backbone of this generation, and their love of country became a personal love affair. Using the drive instilled by their hard-working immigrant parents, and the constant demand to better oneself they broke free of the ghetto tyranny and expanded outward touching all sectors of the country. Using the memory of their own persecution due to race, and creed, they pushed this country to do the right thing and brought the irrevocable demand of justice and history in securing civil rights for all. The arts and humanities are dominated by this new generation fired by the hard times of their childhood, yet comfortable as Americans first. Jack recognized how much he owed to the struggles in the Lower East Side, and just how much his parents wanted him to do better. He used that traumatic childhood to feed his desire to get out, yet never forgot the steel it melded to his backbone; the same for Joe Simon, and Siegel and Schuster, and Will Eisner, and a whole crop of writers, and actors and athletes using their chosen professions as stepping stones out of the morass. This pattern has a ying to its yang, as others failed to make the leap such as Julius Rosenberg, and Richard Nixon – men who just couldn’t let their childhood turmoil behind and build a better land.

Whenever I get down on this subject and struggle to find its core, I am reminded, and drawn full circle back to Sholom Aleichem. Though he died in 1916, his memory and legacy would see full exposure 48 years after his death when Fiddler On The Roof exploded on Broadway introducing Sholom’s soulful tales to a new audience, and making his heirs proud and rich. For Kirby’s heirs, when in their darkest hours they stumble and fail, I hope they keep the words of Sholom Alichem’s granddaughter close to them.

“I am the only living person who remembers him. I remember his laugh, the warmth of his hand, a few scenes from my childhood. He taught me to speak in rhymes, he invented funny stories and silly games, and I adored him. Above all, he taught me to laugh instead of crying.”

Of Jack Kirby, I can say I saw this man and remember his warmth, and his laugh and his elegance and spirit. And he left me feeling better about life than before I met him.

So I think Kirby’s legacy is secure….. as long as people like Mark Evanier, Greg Theakston, Kurt Busiek, or myself and others continue to tell his story, and a new generation thrills to Silver Star, The FF, Captain America, and the Fourth World, his stories live, and breathe, and the flame is passed. In time, a new media will adopt his words and entertain once again.

So hope is not lost. Jack may yet be transformed into a larger consciousness, one that teaches us Kirby’s lasting message.

“Create your own story, that’s the Kirby way.”

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Looking For The Awesome – 25. Animated

Previous24. Once More Into The Breach | Contents | Next26. The Animated Artist

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

ANIMATED

A new game in town

No one realized that Jack was having vision problems, and these problems sometimes skewed his perspective. His natural instincts corrected some of these problems and his inkers fixed what they could, but it was obvious that Kirby was slipping. His mind was as full of ideas as ever, but his ability to render the amazing was no longer strongly in his grasp. His problems with plot continuity continued as he raced from one amazing context to another. The many years of staring at an art board was taking its toll, not just physically, but mentally as well. Kirby didn’t have the strength to fight the system anymore. In a memorable dinner at a local dive, Jack talked to Mark Evanier of his future, bemoaning the fact that his contract was soon up and he couldn’t bear the thought of another tenure doing comics for a big impersonal comic house. Yet he had no alternatives. Then for perhaps the first time, instead of Kirby making his fortune, fortune found him.

Kirby did the thumbnails

In 1978, Marvel had leased to an animation company the rights to produce an animated Fantastic Four series. Someone suggested that since Jack Kirby was now living in California; why not get the original source to provide storyboards. A quick phone call from Hanna-Barbera Studios and Kirby was back where he had begun, working for an animation studio. Kirby and Marvel agreed that his working on the FF series would count toward the pages required of his contract so they had no problem, plus it took him away from the nitwits in the office who were jealous of him.

Suddenly Jack was out from under the yoke of deadlines and assembly line comic creation. Due to behind the scenes fighting, the project ended up over at the DePatie- Freleng studios and Stan Lee, who had recently moved to California to oversee Marvel’s cinematic properties, was brought in to help produce the toons while Kirby oversaw the art direction. Jim Shooter was upgraded to Stan’s publisher position. Under a strange agreement, the character of the Human Torch had been licensed to a different film

company, so the Torch was replaced in the cartoon by an irascible robot named Herbie. Some have speculated that it was a nod to Star Wars because of some similarities to R2-D2, others say that standards and practices rejected the Torch after a child had been burned while imitating the earlier cartoon. Neither seems to be true. The loss of the Torch really weakened some of the stories, especially in the visuals where the Torches flame was so visually exciting.

In FOOM #22 Marvel advertised the new show as if the impossible had been done, just their regular over the top huckstering. Complete with photos of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and production drawings of Herbie the robot. (first called ZZ123)

“They said it couldn’t be done!

They said we couldn’t reunite the titanic talents of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby!

When we did that on the sensational all-new all-great Silver Surfer book from Simon and Schuster, they said we couldn’t come back to sweep Saturday morning TV with an animated Marvel feature series!

They were wrong!

Because Mighty Marvel is-as ever- on the move, and we’re making our push to become Masters of the Media! Yes, it’s true! In case you haven’t heard, faithful FOOMer, the Marvel Comics Group has just recently joined in pandemonious partnership with DePatie-Freleng, an awesome animation studio responsible for many of your favorite cartoon features.

The result is The New Fantastic Four Show, with rock ‘em-sock ‘em storyboards by King Kirby and slambang scripts by Stan the Man and others…”

The strip lasted just one season. Featuring 13 episodes of mostly dumb-downed, barely animated retellings of Fantastic Four comics.

To round out his soon to end contract, the last Kirby item was a series built around a big red dinosaur and the scruffy little kid who controlled it. Stan Lee heard that DC was pushing a Kamandi cartoon to CBS. Stan approached Jack about a similar child’s title that he might be able to pitch to animators. Devil Dinosaur was Kirby trying to regain the kiddie market–much like Kamandi had been an antidote to Kirby’s super-serious New Gods trilogy. Though childish in nature, Jack nevertheless delved into his vast cache of scientific knowledge. Jack explained; “One guy published a theory that we are descended from killer baboons.”

From Amazing Adventures #3 Aug. 1961 Jack’s first red dinosaur

Jack was referring to what is called the Killer Ape theory as espoused by Dr. Raymond Dart, a noted anthropologist who proposed that man was evolved from bands of killer apes and that the aggressive behavior of man came from that natural need to kill for food. As layed out in his thesis in 1953, Dart’s ideas were met with disbelief and much curiosity. It became fodder for sci-fi writers and film makers. Books and movies such as Planet of the Apes, and the opening of 2001-A Space Odyssey borrowed heavily from Dart’s theories. Kirby had had a man vs. red dinosaur as early as 1961. Kirby had used pieces in books like 2001, Eternals, and Kamandi. “I believe that,…Forty years ago we just got through shoving people into ovens—on a very flimsy reason.” Kirby continued; “Man has a drive for domination” and Kirby extracted this and imbued it to his aliens. “The dinosaur was on Earth for 750 million years. Do you mean to tell me that it didn’t have the intelligence of …a dog? When I did Devil Dinosaur, I did a thinking dinosaur. My belief is that dinosaurs were intelligent. I mean, if we acquired the intelligence we have, say in a short period of about 4 million years, what might the dinosaur have accomplished in 750 million years?

The book was scoffed at by the older kids, but it was a great thrill ride for the kids. It was a cartoon in book form. Though never picked up by animation studios this series has become a cult classic, pure kitsch. Jack quit.

It was what it was

The finality of his decision hit Jack hard. Jack told Steve Sherman,” Fine, I’m done!
I get a pension, I get health benefits, I get treated like a human being.” “That’s it with comics. OK I’m done.” Mostly trying to convince himself. A lifetime of putting pencil to paper ended with a suddenness unimagined, but not unwelcome. With the end of his contract in mid-1979, his time at Marvel was through. He would now devote the rest of his career on animation presentations; with a detour or two along the way. But the tenure didn’t end on a happy note. The Fantastic Four cartoon series only lasted one year, but Stan Lee immediately followed this up with perhaps the ugliest, least inspired cartoon project ever.

Marvel leased the character of the Thing to another Hanna-Barbera animation project titled Fred and Barney Meet the Thing. Though the Stone Age duo never shared an episode with the Stone hero the concept is widely considered one of the worst cartoon shows ever created. Jack was unhappy as the habit of Marvel projects not crediting him with the creation of characters continued. Worse still is the abomination heaped on Kirby’s iconic character. Instead of the grumpy, anti-hero forever doomed to live in a rock-like exterior, the character is now a normal teenaged boy named Benjy Grimm who becomes a rocky super-hero when he touches two rings together and shouts “Thing rings-do your thing”.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewww! – Jack in 1971

Jack’s anger over Marvel’s refusal to list him as co-creator in such books as Origins of Marvel Comics and Sons of Origins plus credit for the Hulk and the Thing cartoon concretized into total disdain for Marvel’s practices. When asked if they could use his face on a proposed cover, Jack refused. In response to the growing disrespect, Jack made an agreement with Marvel to never use his likeness as a means of selling a book. If they wouldn’t credit him, he wouldn’t help them sell product.

It was as bad as it looks Ring thing do your thing

Another new portfolio of Jack Kirby’s artwork hit the stands when Privateer Press released The Jack Kirby Masterworks. With another short bio of Kirby by Mark Evanier, and dozens of large unpublished pages, rejected Marvelmania pages, and production pages done with loving care and a quality cover presentation showing a Kirby drawn Fighting American inked by Walt Simonson. It offered a great sweep of Kirby’s career. It also featured the first publishing of Kirby’s proposed Soul Love strip. It’s a wonderful adjunct to Jack Kirby Unleashed.

Original pencils from Jack Kirby Masterworks (1979) colored and reversed for Invasion #1 (1997 ACG)

In 1979, Disney Productions released a live action film called The Black Hole. It was Disney’s entry into the new burgeoning sci-fi genre started by Star Wars. It was common for Disney to also produce a Sunday newspaper strip of their current movie that ran under the title of Treasury of Classics. Mike Royer was working for Disney at the time and recommended Kirby for the job of producing the strip. Jack wasn’t busy so, after some negotiations, Kirby agreed. His job was to adapt the movie into cartoon format, over a certain period of time. It was most important for copyright and trademarks that the characters and concepts match up to those presented in the movie. Mike Royer was given the job to ink and maintain model consistency on Kirby’s pages. The movie was not a hit, but Kirby’s rendition is very true, plus more dynamic than the movie because of Jack’s bombastic style, and special effects techniques. What the movie and the strip adaptation lacked was a real climactic ending. When the spaceship tore through the Black Hole, there were no visuals depicting what the journey was like; nothing as memorable as the mind blowing visuals of 2001’s final star journey. It was a nice gig, and it allowed Kirby to keep his storytelling muscles toned. The strip ran for 26 installments-six months- Sept. 1979 to Feb. 1980, and was reprinted several times. Disney paid well for the strip.

True to the source but anti-climactic

An entrepreneur approached about starting up a new comic’s line called Kirby Comics. Jack as usual threw his all in and produced a Graphic Novel-like presentation named Captain Victory. Like many times before the economic end fell through before actual publication.

Jack worked for DePatie –Freleng about a year when he got a call from Ruby-Spears, another animation house. Steve Gerber, a former writer at Marvel had pitched an idea for a cartoon called Thundarr the Barbarian, a mix of Conan, and Planet of the Apes. Mark Evanier recalls; “ABC was on the fence about buying the show.” Joe Ruby said we had to get more artwork done and Toth (Alex Toth) who designed the main character was not available.

It had its moments, lots of blasts and tech, Mike Royer inks and corrections

I recall saying, “Let’s get Jack Kirby.” So Jack did a bunch of big pieces of artwork, most of which were inked by Alfredo Alcala and that closed the sale with ABC.”

Jack and Alex Toth (rhymes with both) were friends and admirers whose approach to art and storytelling were 180 degrees apart—total opposites. Alex was born in New York 10 years after Jack and spent his early years bouncing between DC and some of the smaller companies; he had moved to California and found most of his work at Dell Comics and Charlton. He also worked for animators providing production designs and character creations with Space Ghost his most notable creation. To call him curmudgeonly is being nice to curmudgeons. Yet they were good friends and admirers who just couldn’t quite grasp the others genius. Once Alex went to a barbecue over at Jack’s house and spent the day talking with Kirby. When he left he told a companion that he didn’t know why he went, he and Jack have nothing in common. They would talk for hours at cross-purposes yet reach in many ways the same goal. Toth was cutting and gruff, while Kirby was a teddy bear of a man. Toth was minimalistic while Kirby became more detail obsessive with time. Toth was meticulous and technical, while Jack was spontaneous and free-wheeling. Toth was opinionated and hard to work with while Kirby was always polite and easy going and malleable with others.

Flush from the sale of the series, there was talk of a Thundarr newspaper strip and Jack produced several weeks’ worth of continuity samples. It never came to fruition.

Joe Ruby described the genesis of the strip. “So I pitched the idea to ABC’s Marilyn Olin and Judy Price at the Beverly Hills Hotel from a list of about 15 ideas I had. Thundarr was pitched two ways- one a post-nuclear world, or a world destroyed by a natural disaster from space. We all agreed the first way wouldn’t be so good for kids. Well, after getting the development deal, I went about finding a development team of artists and a writer to work with me on the bible of the yet unnamed series. Alex Toth designed the three main characters (Jack Kirby later designed all the other characters after the series was sold) and Dave High designed the world they lived in, I considered two writers, and decided on Steve Gerber, who had done some scripts for us the year before.”

Joe Ruby always said that he envisioned this cartoon differently from the rest. He wanted a hard edge feel, full of dynamics, action, and drama rather than soft cuddly feel good graphics. They went back to an earlier animation technique. The army of horses and reptiles and rodents were rotographed using men on horsebacks to get the flow and motion of real movement. This technique started at Kirby’s earlier employer Fleischer Studio.

Gemini he of the two heads – Wonder if Kirby got royalties on the figurines

“I wanted to show things and be dynamic. I believe it was John Dorman who told me about a guy named Jack Kirby, who I hadn’t heard of, I’m ashamed to say. I was familiar with all his characters from eight years old, but I never knew Jack.” He came over; he was a giant of a man when I realized the characters he had created. But then I saw him, and he was an unassuming, very friendly, very cordial man. To me he almost seemed humble, and I thought, “Holy Cow, this is the man that did all those wonderful characters?” But anyway, I said “Okay, you’re hired.” “Jack wasn’t just an artist, he was a creator. He created very distinctive characters, people or creatures, whatever they were. He created with a story in mind. He would put story behind his creations. He had a philosophical view. Where are these characters coming from? that all came out on the paper. Jack had it. He had it all. And prolific! You’d ask for 2 or 3 pages, you’d get a stack. We put him under contract for six years.”

Ken Spears, the production end of the studio recalls, “Deep into this I start looking at the budgets and the costs, and I’m seeing this guy where all this money is going. So I go to Joe and I say. ”Who is this guy Jack Kirby, and why is he costing us so much?” He goes, “Well, he’s a great artist and he does all this stuff and he was a great Marvel artist.” “And blah, blah, blah.” So I go, “Okay great, how many weeks is he going to be working for us?” And Joe says, “I’ve got him under contract.” And I go, “Holy….are we going to be able to afford this?” “Oh don’t worry; he’s great he’s great.” And I’m thinking, how great could he be?” “But Jack was terrific; a wonderful guy and all I’ve got to say is, he gave me an opportunity to get a much lower price on our storage fees, because of the volume of work that this guy put out. It was absolutely incredible.”

Jack Kirby worked under a gentleman named John Dorman, the head of development for Ruby-Spears. It was John who recommended such people as Kirby and Gil Kane, and Jim Woodring. They were so close that they were named Dorman’s Los Angeles Bastards. Stories of John’s biting humor and caring nature abound. In addition to being a prolific and experienced creative talent, John Dorman was a near-mythic character with an epic sense of the absurd. He sprinkled his conversations with anecdotes of Jimi Hendrix, and sat spellbound sharing war stories with Jack Kirby. He was much more than a storyboard artist or art director, as anyone who worked for him in the early to mid 1980’s can attest. He was especially adept at helping gifted people (even a few legends) once their industry had hung them out to dry. In 1983 he paid a talented young storyboard apprentice named Dan Riba two hundred bucks over weekly union scale just because he knew that beginning wage was not enough to live on. Dorman was notorious in the industry for his sarcastic behavior as well as work habits and with his crew was oftentimes referred to simply as the “bastard”.

After John Dorman sadly passed, Dan Riba recalled. “The important thing is that John made me feel special, when I was feeling like a failure. He gave me the confidence to continue and learn. The main lesson I learned from John, was to treat artists with compassion. From giants like Jack Kirby, Doug Wildey and Gil Kane, to a beginner like me. We were all part of a creative fraternity different from the rest of the world. I believe that I’m a better supervisor, because of him. I will never forget the kindness that he has shown me.”

OK you’re hired Kamandi gets animated—a series of Kirby stills

Kenny Thompkins (computer animator) added in. “I was also a part of the bastard crew. I came on after Thom Enriguez left. I shared a space with Ted Blackdude ( Blackman), that’s what I called him. One morning I heard screaming and cursing coming out of John’s office, so I’d ask Ted who John was cursing out, because it lasted about 20 minutes, with a phone slam to punctuate the conversation. I was new there, so I was kinda fearing for my job. Ted would just turn around calmly and say, “Oh, he’s just talking to the boss.” I thought if he talks to the boss like that, I hope I stay on his good side…. We all are a little crazy, that’s what this industry does to us. John just let a little leak out. We love you John, now you can go rock on with Jimi and go tell war stories with Jack. He was something!”

Buzz remembers an incident where the gruff storyboarder had the last word thanks to Jack Kirby. “While working on the animated Moses film, Prince of Egypt, John was assigned the task of storyboarding the parting of the Red Sea. The Exec in charge had some strong ideas how the story should be told, or rather, re-told. Specifically, to make it more “female friendly”, the Exec ordered the scene written with Moses’ wife breaking his staff across her knee & telling him to have faith in himself if he wanted to part the sea.

John was not a very spiritual, much less religious man, but he knew enough about the Bible to know camel dung when he smelled it. Still, a job was a job & John needed the money, so he storyboarded the scene as written…but he also “plussed” it a bit.

Just beautiful designs with hints of Kamandi meets Thor

John turned the storyboard in and the Exec smiled at how well John had interpreted the Exec’s ideas, then noticed something and frowned. “This is all wonderful work,” the Exec said to John, “but who’s this figure here? the one in the cape with the horned helmet and a big hammer?”

“Oh, that’s Thor,” John said. “I figured since you were fucking around with the Bible I might as well throw him in.”

The Thundarr experience wasn’t totally happy for all. Steve Gerber talks about the step by step process of making a cartoon. “The final product often bears little or no resemblance to what the writer puts on the page.  By the time a film or TV show gets to the screen, the writer has collaborated with literally hundreds of people, and a little of the original vision has gotten lost at each step between script and finished product.  The writer writes, and then everybody else; the story editors, directors, producers, network executives, censors, actors in live action, storyboard artist in animation, gets to have ‘input.'”  He called the final product a “bastardized version.”  “The only thing that’s really better about working in TV than comics is the money…” Gerber griped that the Programs Practices people wouldn’t allow his barbarian, Thundarr, “to punch or to hit anybody.  He can do all sorts of acrobatic things, but he can’t even trip anyone.  We had to design a sword which was not a sharp object, which naturally led people to a laser sword.  However, that had already been done before so we had to take it one step further to a lightning sword.”  Thundarr was emasculated.”

With success, more work came Jack’s way; character designs, villains, machinery and such. Kirby stayed with Ruby-Spears. Jack worked on other shows such as Goldie Gold, and Action Jack, Mr. T, Rambo, Sectaurs and Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos. He also pitched in on a few Hanna-Barbera shows like Space Stars, and Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. Joe Ruby said; “We liked Jack’s work so much we put him on staff for six years. He was great.”

In late 1979 another unusual project grabbed Kirby’s attention. A movie producer named Barry Ira Geller had optioned the movie rights to a much touted sci-fi book named Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. Geller had a grandiose idea of making a movie while at the same time building an amusement park from the movie props and settings. Geller approached Jack Kirby about doing some production drawings from which he could sell the idea to investors. Jack was also scheduled to be artistic director for the movie. Jack provided 13 of the most amazing epic sets ever imagined. They incorporated Mayan, Hindu and Eastern influences into the architecture, and seemed to rival the pyramids and Sphinx in scale and mass. The idea captured all the feelings that Kirby felt were embodied by comic work. It was powerful, imaginative and had a modern scope touching on tolerance, religion and the future. The business sales pitch was over the top:

From the Business Development section: “During the period of 1978-1980, professional associations included: a seasoned financial manager who managed four Studio heads, a Major Studio promise of distribution, an Oscar-winning actor’s promise of participation, an Oscar-winning Makeup Special effects director’s employment, the employment of the creative artist/designer responsible for 50% of the Comics Industry, two of the world’s top science fiction writers consulting, two of the world’s leading architects, and last but not least the personal involvement of one of the world’s most famous inventors. It was described as a property whose vast resources both creative and financial talent appreciated.”

I do like the part where the creative artist is credited with being responsible for 50% of the comic industry. Probably close. An example of how Geller and Kirby communicated: “Jack, I want to have something with 100-200 feet of revolving virtual image holograms of all the different people on the planet, and states of consciousness, and energies, and emotions”

Original Lord of Light – producer Barry Ira Geller

Then I said, “Let’s try it with just the revolving gardens” which is more like the novel. The novel doesn’t really say where anything is, so I took artistic license with it. And Kirby came back a week later with 2 pieces titled The Royal Chambers of Brahma. Kirby had looked for and finally found the awesome!

Kirby’s enthusiasm for the project was unparalleled. “Firstly, if I had not been invited to be involved with Lord of Light, I would have gone out of my way to make sure I could be.” This film is going to have a tremendous impact in the world, it will show enormous strength, it will allow the Eastern man and the Western man to relate to each other. And once mankind relates, they will never again have to fight. They will understand each other’s needs and idiosyncrasies.” I believe that this film and the way we are conceiving it could contribute to saving the world. I had to be involved…and I most definitely am.” His enthusiasm was admirable, his prescience not so well.

AWESOME!

On November 4, 1979 the country awoke to a shocking reality. Half a world away, fanatical followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had overtaken the country of Iran, and were holding 52 American hostages at the U.S. Consulate. Unknown was that six Americans had escaped and were in hiding, with Canadian assistance, hoping to be rescued.

A few weeks after the takeover, a message was slipped to the State Dept. acknowledging the hiding staffers and where they could be found for rescue. Tony Mendez, a former chief of the C.I.A.’s Disguise Section was given the task of coming up with a plan to sneak agents in to remove the six in hiding.

After a few days, Tony came up with an ingenious plan to pass off agents as location scouts for a Hollywood movie production, allowing them fairly free access through Iranian territory. For this to work, all the accoutrements of a Hollywood production would be necessary, first and foremost an actual movie prospectus to show the Iranians. His plan was nicknamed the Canadian Caper. Mendez knew they had to plan the ruse down to the last detail. “If anyone checks,” he said, “we need that foundation to be there.” If they were exposed, it could embarrass the government, compromise the agency, and imperil their lives and the lives of the hostages in the embassy. The militants had said from the beginning that any attempted rescue would lead to executions.

Mendez contacted a make-up designer in Hollywood who was well known to him from earlier escapades. This make-up man, John Chambers –of Planet of the Apes fame, had a clue for the perfect film prospectus. He had been among the first hired to work on Barry Ira Geller’s Lord of Light project. Since the production centered on a Middle Eastern location, the pictures fit the idea of using Iran for location shooting. When told of the project, the C.I.A. stole the script and production drawings from Geller’s Denver offices. It has been argued that the Lord of Light’s legal problem emanated from data stole by the C.I.A. backed D.A. office.

Tony gathered a core group and started “Studio Six” with the goal of entering Iran and extricating the hidden six. With his mission impossible cast of characters they set about setting up their cover story of making a movie named Argo. Mendez arranged for promotional ads in the Hollywood newspapers, and for business meetings and lavish parties announcing the movie beginning production. After considerable practice, The CIA men slipped into Iran, with Tony in the role of the exuberant Irish producer. “I have a business meeting with my company associates,” he explained to Iranian authorities in Germany. “They’re flying in from Hong Kong tomorrow and are expecting me.” Mendez had broken into a cold sweat in the airport — even professionals have their moments of doubt — but he knew there was no turning back. He put his faith in the strength of his cover story. That night the six escapees had dinner at a local residence of a Canadian friend, when Mendez arrived and told them they were to be secreted out of the country. They were told of the movie cover story and given new identification cards showing them as part of the movie production crew. They were given copies of the script and of Jack’s drawings as well as dummy contact phone numbers in case someone questioned their authenticity. When asked if they wanted to go individually, or together, the small group chose to stick together. They were also given special fake Canadian passports; not really fake since the Canadian government had them specially printed for the rescue mission.

The morning of Jan. 28, they made way to Mehrabad Airport. The airport had become chaotic since the revolution. The worst part was the Revolutionary guards who continually harassed passengers they thought might be smuggling riches out of the country. But that morning seemed calm. There were komitehs at customs, but their attention was focused on locals trying to smuggle out rugs or gold. Mendez had picked the early morning because by 10 am, Mehrabad would become a chaotic developing-world transit hub, with disordered lines of people, commotion, yelling, and shoving. That’s when the Revolutionary Guard would show up to have their run of the place. Mendez had gone ahead. His office had been testing out Mehrabad, sending agents to enter and exit the country, checking the security. But he preferred to see things for himself. Mendez could tell instantly if things felt right. He’d assess the customs and immigration desks — how diligent, for example, was the staff? More worrisome than the professionals were the komiteh and Revolutionary Guards standing behind them. Armed and unpredictable, they made the airport truly dangerous. Mendez led the way, running interference for the frightened passengers, talking to anyone nearby in a typical Hollywood b.s. fashion if they came too close.

“Tony recalls; The Iranian official at the checkpoint could not have cared less.” Some Iranian Revolution Guards had arrived and began harassing people. There was a heart pounding mechanical delay that shook everyone’s nerves. Just as the Guards started to bother the international passengers, they announced boarding to begin for the Swissair flight to freedom. Though it seemed interminable, departure and takeoff went smooth. Once the bar opened on the plane, Mendez dropped the charade and ordered Bloody Mary’s for all and raised a toast. “We’re home free”

The dramatic rescue was a success; the six arrived safely and were reunited with their families. A few months later, there was a military attempt at rescuing the 52 hostages at the Embassy. That rescue mission did not go so well when two Army helicopters crashed during a freak sand storm and the mission was aborted. Jimmy Carter’s presidency never recovered. Mendez met with President Carter in a small secluded non publicity setting; Carter thanked him for his heroism. Mendez received the C.I.A.’s Intelligence Star award and John Chambers was given a Medal of Merit.

Not all rescues were successful

The depth of the extrication only became known to many in 2000, when a TV show interviewed Mendez, and got permission from Geller to use the artwork. In this interview Mendez openly admitted the theft of the script and artwork, to help in one of the great adventure stories.

As for the Lord of Light project, unfortunately there were some legal problems, and the project was shut down by the Gov’t. Later, in 1980 Prevue Magazine reported about a growing scandal involving real estate fraud, and misappropriation of funds. Several members were indicted, but Barry Geller was cleared and left alone, his project in tatters. Jack was devastated. Mike Royer the inker for the Lord of Light production pieces says the whole CIA story was bullshit! But later facts back it up as real. Jack had a few other minor brushes with the CIA, such as a proposed flying jacket similar to the one on Jack’s Jacob and the Angel piece.

Jack Kirby never knew about how his drawings were part of a dramatic rescue of the six Americans. Yet I’m thinking he would have been proud; a little cosmic payback for the loss of his good friend Leon to terrorists. Ben Affleck is set to direct a movie based on this escapade.

Previous24. Once More Into The Breach | Top | Next26. The Animated Artist

1967 March 3 – “Will Success Spoil Spider-man??”

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby interviewed by Mike Hodel on WBAI FM, NYC

The audio of this interview is courtesy of Stan Lee Papers, Box 70, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Transcribed by the Kirby Museum.

Hodel: Who goes around saving maidens, preventing banks from being robbed and committing other deeds of that type under an alter ego for the name Peter Parker. How about Tony Stark? Would you believe Reed Richards? Stan Lee? Jack Kirby?

Well, except for the last two, they’re all superheroes and they belong in Marvel Comics and they are written and drawn by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And Mr. Lee and Mr. Kirby are gonna be asked some questions about their superheroes. And I guess the first one would be addressed to Stan Lee and it’s the title of this program.

Stan, will success spoil Spider-man?

Lee: (laughs) Oh, I don’t think anything could spoil old Spidey, as we lovingly call him.

I just have to correct one thing you said though. You said that, um, except for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the others are superheros. We like to think of (laughs) ourselves as superheros too. Might add also, there are other artists and other writers who do some of the other books too. Jack and I don’t do them all. Although, we- we do the Fantastic Four and Thor.

And, uh, Spider-man has been a success since he started and, uh, luckily I don’t think he’s been spoiled yet so we just have our fingers crossed.

Hodel: I ran across Marvel Comic Books about six or eight months ago and one of the things that drew me to Marvel Comic Books, and Spider-man in particular, is a panel which showed Spider-man swooping down on some bank robbers and they say, “Whoops. Here comes Spider-man.” And he replies, “Who were you expecting? Vice President Humphrey?” Now this is not a line you expect to find in a comic book and it sort of symbolizes your whole approach to the field, which is offbeat and interesting. Was it your idea, Stan, or, well, where did it come from?

Lee: Well, uh, I guess, in that sense it was my idea, since I write the dialogue.

Uh. In a nutshell, our theory is, although maybe I shouldn’t, uh, give the theory in a nutshell, ’cause then I don’t know what we’ll talk about for the rest of the half hour. At any rate, in a nutshell, our theory is that, um, there’s no reason why a comic magazine couldn’t be as realistic and as well written and drawn as any other type of, uh, literature.

We try to write these things so that characters speak the way a character would speak in a well-written movie, well-produced television show. And, um, I think that’s what makes our books seem unique to a person who first picks them up. Nobody expects, as you say, that sort of thing in a comic book, but that’s a shame because why shouldn’t someone expect reasonable and realistic dialogue in a comic book? Why do people feel that comic books have to be badly written, you see? And we’re trying to, um, engage in a one-company crusade to see to it that they’re not badly written.

Hodel: Jack, you drew and invented, if I’m not mistaken, Captain America, one of the earliest superheros, who’s now plying his trade in Marvel Comics. How did Captain America come to be and does he have any particular, oh, relationship to the, to your other superheros?

Kirby: Well, yes, Captain America, like all the characters come to be because it- because of the fact that there is a need for them. Somebody needed Captain America, just as the public needed Superman. When Superman came on the scene, the public was ready for him and they took him. And so, from Superman, uh, who didn’t exactly satiate the public’s need for the superhero, um, uh, soon spawned the rest of them. The rest of them all came from Superman and they all had various names and various backgrounds and, uh- uh, they embraced various creeds.

And Captain America came from the need for a patriotic character because the times at that time were in a patriotic stir. The war was coming on and, uh, to coin a cliché, the war clouds were gathering and the drums were beginning to beat and, uh, the American flag was beginning to show on the movie screens. And so Captain America had to come into existence and it was just my good fortune to, uh- uh, be there at the time when we were asked to create, uh, superheros for the magazines that were coming into creation then, for the new magazines.

Hodel: Well, Captain America fought valiantly against the Axis from 1940 until after the war, then what happened? When did he, uh, die off or go into hiding until he was revived by Marvel Comics?

Kirby: Well, I- I believe that Captain America went into hiding like all ex-soldiers. I know I went into hiding. I didn’t show my face for quite a few years. In fact, I went out to Long Island with my wife and I got happily lost there and never found my way back to Manhattan.

And so, uh, feeling that I- I, myself and Captain America because of the fact that his feelings are mine when the drawings- when- when the drawings are created and, uh, because his reactions are my reactions to this specific situations in the story, uh, well, I have no compunction to say that we both were hiding for all these years and, uh- uh, were quite happy about it.

Hodel: Well, now that Captain America is back in the fight, has there been any talk about sending him to Vietnam? They could certainly use him.

Kirby: Well, that’s Stan Lee’s department and, uh, he can answer that. The editor always has the last word on that.

Lee: Well, the Secretary of Defense and myself just haven’t yet made up our mind. (laughs). Um. I don’t know. I don’t think we’ll be sending him to Vietnam really because, um, it’s a funny thing. We treat these characters sort of tongue and cheek and we get a lot of laughs out of them. We have a lot of fun with them. I somehow don’t know if it’s in really in good taste to take something as serious as the situation in Vietnam and, uh, put a character like Captain America … We- we would have to start treating him differently and take the whole thing very seriously, which we’re not prepared to do.

The time that Jack talks about, when Captain America was first created, the books were written a little bit differently then. There was really, there wasn’t this type of subtle humor. The stories were very serious and at that time, I think it was okay to have Captain America fighting the Nazis and so forth, ’cause they were done very seriously. But right now, I- I don’t think I’d feel right, uh, writing the stories about Vietnam.

Hodel: All these superheroes are, not all of them, but many of them have, uh, hangups. You have one superhero who is blind, uh, named Daredevil, otherwise known as Matt Murdock. You have Spider-man, Peter Parker, who is perhaps the most guilt-ridden teenager I have ever run across. And there are, uh, many others. How did you decide that these were gonna be something more than superheros, that they were gonna have problems of their own?

Lee: Well, it was just the idea of trying to make them realistic, as we mentioned before, trying to write them a little bit better. It seems to me that the best type of story is the type of story a reader can relate to. The average superhero published by some of the other companies, you can’t really relate to them because they’re living in a vacuum. They just have a super power. They can fly through the air or whatever and that’s it, but other than that, they are two dimensional.

Now in order to make a person three dimensional, he has to have a family life, he has to have personal problems and so forth. The thing, I’ve said this so often that it’s almost becoming a cliché with me, but what we try to do is we know that these superhero stories are really fairy tales. They are fairy tales for older people. We think of them that way. We don’t really write them for young kids. And, uh, what we ask the reader to do, and hope he will do, is accept the basic premise, the basic fairy-tale quality, such as the fact that Spider-man does have the proportionate strength of a spider, if a spider were his size and that Spider-man does have the ability to cling to walls, which obviously nobody does.

However, once we accept that basic premise, that fairy-tale quality, we try to make everything else very realistic. The idea being, what would a real person do? How would he react? How would his life be if he had the strength, proportionate strength of a spider and could cling to walls? Wouldn’t he still have sinus trouble? Possibly trouble with girls? A- a- a sick relative that he was worried about? Have to worry about his school marks and so forth?

So once we get beyond the fairy-tale quality, we try to write realistic stories. We try to have the character speaking in a realistic way. To me, I- I feel that this gives it a great deal of interest. You have the combination of the fantasy, mixed with the most realistic story you can get and, uh … Well, we found sort of a winning combination.

Kirby: Well, a prize fighter can win the championship of the world and go home and be very inadequate at home, uh, inadequate enough and have a lot of family trouble.

Hodel: Which may be one reason for his fighting.

Lee: (laughs) Very good.

Hodel:  You’ve also created something unique in comic books that I know of. You’ve come up with an anti-hero. A physicist by the name of Bruce Banner, who periodically becomes the Hulk and, uh, oh, he destroys things a lot, as somebody said to me. Uh. What made you think that an anti-hero, who goes around tearing down bridges and buildings and things like that, uh, could sell comic books?

Lee: Gee I- I, actually, it … I think we knew when we started that he could sell comic books better than anybody. We’ve always found … I don’t think it’s that we’re this brilliant. Don’t be … We’ve had so much experience, that we’d have to be stupid not to have learned by all these years of experience and we get a lot of fan mail and you learn a lot by what the readers write. And we learned the villains are usually at least as popular as the heroes are. They have a great appeal.

Kirby: Well, what makes you think that a Boris Karloff can’t be a great star in movies? It’s the same analogy I imagine.

Lee: Right.

And what happens is, after a while, we have a lot of trouble by trying to humanize our heroes and giving them faults and failings, we do the same with our villains. We try to give them understandable qualities and reasons why they are the way they are. We’ve even had villains who reformed and became heroes. One standing joke among our readers and among the artists and writers who work for us, our so-called bullpen, is after a while, we don’t know who the heroes and who the villains are. There’s such a fine line, you see, dividing them.

Well, when we started with the Hulk, we just knew he had to be popular because he had everything in his favor. It had the Jekyll and Hyde format. It had the idea of a monster who was sympathetic, the way Frankenstein really had been in the first movie. He wasn’t bad, Frankenstein’s monster, that is, he wasn’t bad, he was misunderstood. All he wanted to do was be left alone.

I would have bet my bottom dollar the Hulk would have to be well received and he was and he still is one of our most popular characters, probably the most popular one with our college readers, college-age readers.

Hodel: That’s what I was gonna ask. You say your books are aimed not at children, but at, uh, young people and adults. Is there anyway that you can check for magazine sales and so forth as to, uh, what your readership is?

Lee: No. Our only check really is through the mail, which is a very good check because we get thousands of letters a week. I would guess we get almost as much mail as the Beatles and we don’t even sing.

And, uh, by reading all this mail, a monumental task in itself, we’ve learned a lot about who our readers are and what they like and dislike. And, uh, almost half of our mail is from college students and college-aged people.

Hodel: What do they like and what do they not like?

Lee: Just what you’d think they’d like. They like whatever we do that seems to be original, unexpected. They like the, uh, degree of satire we put into the books. They are mad for the quality of artwork, which I think is far superior than has ever been presented in any other comics over the years. They like the, uh, realism, which, uh, it’s always a difficult thing to say because somebody who isn’t familiar with the books would think this guy must be, must have flipped. He’s talking about comic books and he’s talking about realism, but the readers know what we mean. And, um, they like whatever quality they find: good writing, good drawing, good editing, and sincerity. I think they- they can detect a note of sincerity, even though the stories have some humor, quite a bit of humor to them, there is an underlying sincerity. We take them seriously and I think the readers are aware of this.

Hodel: Did you also innovate the letters page, which, uh, it- it- it adds to your stories and frequently I sometimes find in the blurbs you run, that, uh, you advance the stories by means of these letter pages?

Lee: The letters pages are our most successful, one of our most successful devices. It also establishes a rapport, uh, between ourselves and the readers and, uh, I’m happy to say most of our readers feel that we’re all friends. When they write a letter, they don’t say dear editor, they say dear Stan and Jack. Dear so and so. They call us by name and we give ourselves nicknames. We started this as a gag and they’ve caught on. Uh. The fellow here at my right isn’t just Jack Kirby, he’s “Jolly Jack” or-

Kirby: And I’ll get you for it.

Lee: (laughs) … or Jack “King” Kirby.

Kirby: (laughs)

Lee: And I’m “Smiling Stan.” And, uh, this is kinda cute too because, as- as I mentioned to you earlier, I think before we were on the air, we sort of think of the whole thing as one big advertising campaign with slogans and mottos and catch phrases and things that the reader can identify with. And besides just presenting stories, we try to make the reader think he’s part of an in group. A fact that we’ve discussed before, we’re always a little worried about being too successful, where, uh, the readers will feel oh gosh, now everybody’s got on to it. We have to find something new.

Hodel: Is there a real Irving Forbush?

Lee: Oh, I don’t think that it would be right for me to answer that.

Hodel: (laughs)

Lee: When we’re off the air, I might hint at it. He’s real in our imagination, I’ll put it that way. (laughs).

Hodel: Well, I think you’ve also pioneered the use of mythological superheroes. I’m talking about Thor, which you two-

Lee: Oh.

Hodel: … come up with every month.

Lee: Well, you’ve got the right guy here ’cause I would say that Jack is the greatest mythological creator in the world. Well, we- we kicked Thor around and we came out with him. And I thought he would just be another book. And I think that Jack has turned him into one of the greatest, uh, fictional characters there are.

In fact, I should let Jack say this, but just on the chance that he won’t. He was … Somebody was asking him how he gets his authenticity in the costumes and everything. And I think a priceless answer Jack said was, “They’re not authentic. If they were authentic, they wouldn’t be authentic enough.” But he draws them the way they should be, not the way they were.

Hodel: Did you do a lot of homework on that, a lot of, uh, Norse myths and so forth?

Kirby: Well, uh- uh, not homework in the sense that I- I went home one night and I really concentrated on it. All through the years, certainly I’ve had uh- uh, a kind of affection for any mythological type of character and, uh, my conception of what they should look like and, uh, here Stan gave me the opportunity to draw one and I wasn’t gonna draw back from really letting myself go, so I did. And, uh, like, uh- uh, the world became a stage for me there and, uh, I had a costume department that really went to work. And, uh, I gave the Norse, uh, characters twists that they never had in anybody’s imagination.

Lee: (laughs)

Kirby: And, uh, somehow it- it turned out to be a lot of fun and I- I really enjoyed doing it.

Hodel: Isn’t it rather tough to come up with villains that, uh, are a suitable match for a Norse god?

Kirby: Well, not if they’re Norse gods.

Lee: (laughs).

Hodel: Well, you’ve also dragged in some Greeks. I remember one epic battle with Hercules.

Kirby: Well, Hercules had, uh, Olympian powers, which certainly are, uh, considered, uh, on an equal basis with old powers of the Norse gods and, uh, therefore we, uh, we felt that, uh, they were an equal match for each other, and by rights, they should contend with each other.

Lee: These college kids, who are so hooked on these stories, and they like Thor also, and not long ago I was speaking at Princeton, and one of the questions that I was asked was, “How do we reconcile the idea of Norse gods and Greek gods in the same story?” Now, obviously, Zeus and Odin are really the same god, but, uh, in different mythologies. And it occurred to us, what we do is we create our own mythology and we create our own universes and in our minds, there is an Olympus and there is an Asgard and Odin is the boss of his little god- god-dom and Olympus is the chief of his and we may someday bring in the Roman gods or whoever else.

And we figure that we don’t have, as Jack said, we don’t have to be that accurate because we think we can do better. After all, mythology is mythology and who’s to say we can’t make up our own myths, which is what we’re doing, just basing them on other past ones and having a heck of a good time doing it.

Hodel: Well, you have to draw your villains to scale. You can’t give Spider-man and, uh, Thor the same villain to fight. You, there has to sort of a class A, B, and C for villains. And, uh, so it must be a bid of a hard- hardship to come up with a villain who can be, uh, satisfactorily, uh, well give satisfactory battles-

Lee: Yeah.

Hodel: … to Thor.

Kirby: Yes. Well, I found out that villains seem to have their limits to because I came up with a few on a- on a galactic scale and-

Lee: (laughs)

Kirby: … and soon reversed my direction. (laughs)

Lee: The trouble with Jack is he’s too darned imaginative and he- he gets himself absolutely trapped. The last thing he did and finally we both said we have to stop and retrench a little, is he had Thor fighting a whole planet. Jack came up with an idea, a fella named Ego, who’s a living planet in … What was he, a bio, instead of a universe?

Kirby: Yes. He lived in a- a bio-verse. And, uh-

Lee: Which I’m sure we’re all very familiar with.

Kirby: Yes, and- and-(laughs)

Hodel: Just the other side of the, uh, negative universe, right?

Kirby: Yes. And- and- and just not presenting the reader with a- with a living planet. We- we- we had, it had to be cause and effect, so we made him into a multiple virus, which we felt (laughs) could be accepted and that maybe not on a friendly basis-

Hodel: (laughs)

Lee: (laughs)

Kirby: … but certainly on a realistic basis and that was our jumping off point. And, uh, we went on from there and he was acceptable to the reader, uh, due to the fact that he could contend with Thor on Thor’s level.

Lee: He was acceptable due to the fact that Jack drew him so well, but the problem was where do we go from there. After you fought a living planet, you can’t fight a litter bug. So, uh, we- we do have problems in that respect.

Now we have to, we’re trying to humanize these characters again a little bit, because they’ve been too far out, you know, there. We had him fight the whole troll empire in Asgard. And he fought … Well, we, in the Fantastic Four, for example, we had a fella name Galactus, who’s practically god. I mean, he could do anything and he, uh … We- we realized after Galactus, that we better take it a little bit easy with these villains too.

In fact, a lot of readers would write in and they say, “Well, where do you go from here? Well, who’s he gonna fight next after that?”

Kirby: Not only that, we felt it was disrespectful to Galactus to even destroy him in any manner, so we had to just respectfully find a way for him to leave and then go on to another adventure, because we couldn’t even touch him, I believe. And, uh, there- there might have been an outcry if we had.

Lee: (laughs) One other thing I think that we’ve innovated that has been pretty successful, is overlapping characters and books. For example, this Galactus, he first appeared in the Fantastic Four. Now this is interesting to me, the Fantastic Four books that he appeared in were three in number, three consecutive issues. We have continued stories. In fact, they are, all our books are one big continued story. And in the mail we received from so many college kids, they now refer to those books, they’ll say, “By the way, regarding your Gallacks- your Galactus trilogy” … and the darned thing, you know, they’re referring to this as though it’s the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, which I love. This is wonderful. It means we’re- we’re really reaching them.

At any rate, he appeared in the Fantastic Four and then he went off to another universe and that was the end of Galactus, but we didn’t leave him there. In Thor, which is another publication of ours and has no relationship to the Fantastic Four except that we publish them both, what we did was, when Thor was finishing of this living planet that he had battled, on his way back to Earth, he passed Galactus, who was wandering around in the sky up there, and Galactus was on his way to meet the fellow, Ego, who was the living planet and so forth, and we just kind of left it there. And someday when we run out of plots, we’ll have the fight between Galactus and Ego. But we very often do that ’cause we feel it gives a feeling of realism also.

If we have a villain who fought the Fantastic Four or Spider-man or Daredevil or the X-Men or Captain America or whomever, why shouldn’t he eventually meet another one of our heroes? Or why shouldn’t our heroes meet as they often do and guest star in each other’s book? Because according to the gospel as preached by Marvel, they all live in the same world, you see?

Kirby: I would advise any astronomer listening to what we have to say here to take another good hard look at the Quasars-

Lee: (laughs)

Kirby: … because we think that one of them is Galactus.

Lee: (laughs)

Hodel: (laughs)

Lee: And we dare them to disprove it.

Hodel: If anyone wants to disprove it, please call WBAI and we’ll set up a program.

I wanted to talk about your guest-starring villains and superheroes in, uh, in each other’s books. Do you find that this, well, besides giving continuity and realism, do you think that, uh, to save you the trouble of creating more villains?

Lee: Oh, it certainly is helpful because once, it’s like a- a repertory theater, where you got your actors, and you know what they can do, and you can use them as- as needed.

Once we have our cast of characters, whether heroes or villains or both, it makes it easier for us to base stories. If we’re sitting around dreaming up a plot, Jack might say to me, gee, you know, we haven’t used the Silver Surfer for awhile. How would it be if he was doing this, that,  or the other. Or I might remember, gee, what about Galactus or- or whoever, so it does make it easier.

But that isn’t the reason we do it, we do it because again, it seems to me that you enjoy things that you’re familiar with and the readers eventually get to know these characters and they’re interested in these characters and why just get rid of them. It’s very, it takes months to build up that interest in a new character.

So what we do is, while we’re developing a new character, we’ll still have old ones reappearing to give a- a- a thread of continuity here and there. In fact, in the Fantastic Four, we have absolutely gotten ourselves into such a hole, that I don’t know if we’re ever gonna get … We have so many continuing characters that Peyton Place seems simple next to our situation.

Hodel: I walked into the Fantastic Four line about three or four months ago and every couple of pages you drop one of the Fantastic Four, The Human Torch, Johnny Storm, uh, he will appear for a moment and then he will go off someplace, looking for the Inhumans, for a- for a girl. And, uh, I’m very curious to know where the Inhumans first popped up? It looks as if you, uh, had an idea for a hero there in Black Bolt, who’s the leader of the Inhumans, I found out in I think one of the Avenger books, of all places.

Lee: (laughs)

Hodel: And, uh, they sort of weave in and out over a period of, well, must be at least a year now. And, uh, that must-

Lee: These things aren’t always planned. They grow.

Now what happened was, I think Jack, the first Inhuman that we brought in was Gorgon, wasn’t it? Didn’t we have a story, the gentleman’s name was Gorgon?

Kirby: Yes.

Lee: And he was a fella who (laughs) he looked a little like a centaur or something. He could kick his foot very hard and he had great power. He could shatter a mountain by kicking his foot. He started out as a villain. We liked him so much, I should say Jack liked him so much, that he kept using him. We figured he has to come from somewhere. We decided, let him come from some strange land over in Europe, where there are a whole group of people like him. And well, what else could you call them except the Inhumans. Then Jack had to create a whole bunch of Inhumans and I think he did a great job. All these characters are really very imaginative.

When it came to doing the leader, we decided, well, there was no need for them all to be villainous. And you’re right, I think we did have in mind that Black Bolt would eventually be a heroic type.

And again, we always try to give a character a hangup so his hangup is he doesn’t speak. Now, I’m quite sure he’s the first non-speaking superhero or supervillain, we don’t know quite yet in history.

But anyway, they evolved. I mean, we didn’t sit down one day and say let’s do a group of Inhumans and these are their names and we’ll present them in this fashion, as with everything we do. We just sort of stumble into them as we go along.

I might add something that you may not be aware of, we don’t do the stories the way most other outfits do. We kick around a plot very, very loosely and generally for a story, just discuss it for a few minutes. Uh. We might say- say Jack, and I’d say Jack, in the next Thor, how about bringing back Galactus fighting the planet Ego or something. And Jack will say great. And off he goes. I don’t know where he goes, but off he goes. I don’t see him for a week. He comes back a week later and the whole strip is drawn. And nobody knows what I’m gonna see on those pages. He may have come up with a dozen new ideas, you see. It’ll have something to do with Galactus and Ego. And I take it and I write it on the basis of what Jack has drawn. He’s broken it down to continuity for me. He’s drawn the whole thing actually. I put in the dialogue and the captions. So he doesn’t know exactly what I’m gonna write, what words I’m gonna put in their mouths. I don’t know what he’s gonna draw. The whole thing is, uh, virtual chaos. But somehow, when it gets together, it- it seems to hold together pretty well. We- we kind of like working this way.

Hodel: Well, my own favorite book is the Avengers. Uh. I guess, I have a hangup over a group of superheros, rather than individuals. And each one of the Avengers, which have, which number six, and I believe the, uh, official count is eight, although I gather they’re changing. You’re-

Lee: Always.

Hodel: … bringing some new ones in.

I remember in one book that you toyed with the idea of making Spider-man an Avenger and then decided no. We better not. He works best alone.

When you start out with, uh, well, with the Avengers, sometimes do they get ahead of you?

Lee: Oh, I’d say all the characters get ahead of us. I sometimes think they write their own stories.

Lee: Uh. The Avengers, we have almost the same problem as Jack has with the Fantastic Four. There are so many of them and they all have so many of their own problems. And we have another fellow writing that now, Roy Thomas, who’s just been added to our writing staff recently. And, uh, (laughs) I don’t know how the poor guy is doing it. I- I got out of the Avengers when it began to get complicated and Roy inherited them. There are now a million more characters there than there ever were when I wrote the book. In fact, I can’t even keep track. If you say there are eight, I’ll take your word for that. I thought they were at (laughs) 35 by now.

Lee: Every character we have, when we don’t know what to do with them, we throw them into the Avengers.

Kirby: Not only that, we have to make sure, I’m sorry, we have to make sure that they’re not involved in situations which won’t conflict with the one we want to create at that moment.

Hodel: You took care of one of those very nicely in the newest Avengers strip. I don’t recall the number, but, uh, the subplot concerns getting, I think it’s the Red Witch in..

Lee: Scarlet Witch.

Hodel: The Scarlet Witch-

Lee: The Scarlet Witch. Of course.

Hodel: … into the Avengers and this causes its own hang ups because, uh, unlike most of comic-dom, there are people who don’t like her, don’t think she should be a member of the group.

And, uh, meanwhile, in another book, you have sent Captain America off looking for somebody else. And you tied up one of the loose ends by, uh, in the Avengers. This is getting complicated. (laughs)

Lee: (laughs)

Hodel: By, uh, saying that he was off. It was very nicely done. I was curious when- when he left his post in his own book, which is Strange Tales or Tales of Suspense. I can’t-

Lee: Captain America is in Strange … No. I’m sorry. He’s in Tales of Suspense. Free plug. (laughs)

Kirby: (laugh) This all sounds very familiar.

Lee: (laughs) Strange Tales, since you asked, features Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, Agent of Shield, who also stars in his own book, Sgt. Fury, uh, and His Howling Commandos, which is probably the nuttiest title every conceived of.

Hodel: I wanted to ask you about, uh, Mr. Fury, Sergeant, Colonel-

Lee: Well, he’s in- in Strange Tales, he’s Colonel Nick Fury. Um. I think I can anticipate your question, the fact that he’s in two books, uh, concurrently. What happened was, we put out this war book sort of as a gag a long time ago. When our superheros were doing so well, I mentioned to our publisher, Martin Goodman, that, um, it seems to me we seem to have a formula for these books now and it doesn’t much matter what the subject matter is, as long as they are written and drawn in the style that I think the readers would like them, this, uh, sort of realistic style. I said, to prove it, I bet if we put out a war magazine, which were no great shakes at that time, we could sell just as well and we could make the public like it as well. And, uh, just sort of on a gamble, we did it and we came up with the most unlikely name, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. I think I was always captivated by the names Screaming Eagles from World War II. This was the closest I could get.

Um. At any rate, we gave them a lot of personality. They weren’t just a bunch of soldiers who fought heroically and that was it. They quarreled among themselves and they had their own … They were a squad. Everything was wrong too. For example, Americans weren’t Commandos during the war, they were Rangers. The English were Commandos. We made them American and we still called them Commandos and they were based in England. And in our usual bumbling way, all the facts were pretty inaccurate, but the characterization was there and they were led by tough, rough and tough sergeant, and nobody can draw rough and tough sergeants better than Jack, who did the first few books, Sgt. Fury, Nick Fury. And there are a lot of other interesting characters with him.

Well, at any rate, uh, the stories took place during World War II. The readers loved them so much that they said, why don’t you have stories of … What’s Sgt. Fury … They- they began to think he was a real person. What is Sgt. Fury doing today? That was 25 years ago. Is he alive today? What’s he doing? Why don’t you have a book of Sgt. Fury in the vet-, in the Vietnamese war today and so forth?

I didn’t want to put him in the Vietnamese war, but at that time the James Bond things were popular and we figured it might be very logical for Fury to be a, um, in intelligence or a counter spy or something of the sort. Not that logical ’cause he’s a very, um, rough and tough, hard-bitten guy without nearly the polish of your average secret operative, which also is typical of the way we do things. He’d be the last guy you would expect to be a debonair head of a secret organization, so we made him Colonel Fury, the Head of S.H.I.E.L.D, which is like any of these others, like U.N.C.L.E. or anything else.

So we now have stories of Sgt. Fury in World War II and the same fellow today as Colonel Fury, the Head of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Hodel: Do you ever get an overwhelming impulse to kill off the Sergeant and let them wonder how the Colonel got there?

Lee: You know, I never thought of that, but (laughs) that’s a very, very good point. That would drive everybody crazy. (laughs).

Kirby: It’s like having your own grandmother. Killing your own grandmother. I’m sorry.

Hodel: Do, uh, do your books run in trends or are there plots that run in trends that you have to anticipate or- or try to keep up with?

Lee: This was the case for 25 years, uh, for 20 years before we started with the so-called Marvel Age with comics. In the past, if the war books were selling, we would put out war books and we’d sell our share. If the, uh, crime stories, cops and robbers type of thing, if they were selling, we’d put those out and we’d sell our share and so forth.

Now, fortunately, we seem to feel that we’re creating the trends. Most, I think if we put out a book of romance stories or aviation stories or what have you, we would create a trend in so doing, because we have a loyal following among fandom and as long as we can write them well and draw them well, I don’t think it much matters what the subject matter is, it … And I know there are a lot of people who’ll disagree with me, but I feel the important thing is how well you do it. So we think of ourselves as being the top of the trends right now, instead of just following them.

Hodel: Well, if you’re making the trends, what do you think is gonna be next? Where do you go from here?

Lee: You know, I’m- I’m afraid, I- I could answer it and I daren’t ’cause we are working on a new magazine and if you invite me back here about a month or two from now, I’ll tell you then. But I know, if I mention it and any of the competition hears it, they might just beat us to it. But we do have a new type of magazine that we are working on right now. It should be on sale in about four months.

Hodel: I wanted to ask you, what is the, uh, the time element involved in from, uh, from your and Jack’s idea to the time it hits the stands?

Lee: Well, I’d say from the time Jack and I do a strip, uh, to the time it hits that stand, must be about three and half to four months.

Hodel: What, uh, causes that great a lag, just the mechanics?

Lee: Yeah. The strip comes into the house and it sits around for a while, while it’s proofread and edited. Then it goes out and the photostats are made and the stats are colored for the engraver. Then it’s sent to the comic’s magazine association, where they check it over and make sure that there’s nothing objectionable according to the code of ethics that we have in the industry. Then it goes to the engraver then the mat maker, as far as I know. I don’t know too much about this. I think Jack knows more than I do. Printer and so forth, the distributor and it’s shipped around the country. It’s just a complicated thing. It takes a long time.

Hodel: Does it cost a lot of money? How much per book would you say?

Lee: You know, I’m embarrassed. I have been in the business so long and not to know. But I-

Kirby: I-

Lee: Jack would know. Wait a minute.

Kirby: Higher than it used to be. I- I can’t give you an exact amount, but certainly everything costs more. Uh. A magazine that you put out in 1940 might cost you twice as much to put out today. Cost of paper. Cost of printing and engraving.

But, uh, magazines- magazines are- are doing fairly well in the economy and certainly holding up and, uh- uh, the price of production certainly is, uh- uh, on a level which benefits, uh, from the sales we’re, you know, the magazines are getting so there’s no complaints on that score, not from Marvel, as far as I know.

Hodel: (laughs) Well, and you can sell enough books at 12 cents or 25 cents a piece to, uh, do reasonably well.

Lee: Well, we have to sell a lot of them because I think that the profit, you know, on a 12 cent book is just, uh … Again, I don’t know. It may be a penny or two pennies, but it’s something in that area. Most of it goes to the- the printer, the wholesaler, the distributor, the store keeper and so forth, and just a little bit of it trickles back to the publisher. Fortunately, we sell hundreds of thousands of them so, I don’t think there’s too big a problem as far as making a dollar here and there.

Hodel: Before we went on the air, uh, you and Jack were involved in a slight argument over whether Marvel should, uh, remain number two in superheros or you should, uh, take advantage of the fact that you are selling more books than, what shall I say, the other leading publisher.

Lee: Well, I don’t know that we’re selling more. I think they’re printing more cont-, they- they have more books, consequently they more in total volume. I think our percentage of sales is higher. For the books we print, I think we sell more copies of them.

Yes, we- we are having and ar- … The argument in a nutshell, then I’ll let Jack speak his piece, is I feel that I don’t want to lose our image of being the underdogs, which we’ve had for years. The little outfit that came along and we’re, um, challenging the big fellas. The American public being the way it is, once we’re known to be the leaders, they’re liable to sympathize with another outfit. So I’d like us to kind of, uh, have the, it’s not that I don’t want us to be top, but I’d like with the public, I’d like them to think of us as the little, homey, uh, fun outfit that, you know, we’re not quite that and successful. We’re not that fat cat-ish yet.

Lee: Jack feels differently though I think.

Kirby: Well, I feel that we, well certainly, we may be number one but still retain the type of character that we’ve always had. Certainly if people like you at first, there- there’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to like- like you unless there’s some sort of a radical change in your makeup. If you’re a good magazine, I imagine that they will keep reading it and your readers will be faithful to you.

Certainly, uh, they don’t expect you to, uh, get the arrogance that you might expect with, uh, a champion of any kind. Uh. There, uh, there have been champions that have been humble and that have had fine characters and have been likable. Uh. Certainly, uh, people who’ve had the admiration of the public for years. And there have been champions who have had color and arrogance and have been disliked and, uh, yet have, uh, retained, uh, the quality that have made them champions.

So it doesn’t matter what kind of character the magazines have, the … My- my contention is that it must have the content that the readers like. Uh. Although, the magazine certainly has- has, uh, an individual personality, which Stan has instilled, uh, through his cultivation of the readers. Uh. We still have the content that is superior to any of the magazines on the market and I as a reader would like to read Marvel. And when I do a strip on Marvel, I feel that I’m a reader. I’m certainly never bored with the stuff I read in Marvel. And, uh, I may get to dislike Stan or dislike anybody else in the organization, but that won’t deter me from buying the magazine.

So I feel we are number one. We should be number one, and we say we’re number one and, uh, have no regrets about it. If we’re not number one, we’d like to, I- I feel that we should take, uh, the criticism and, uh, use it for its value. Take whatever value the criticism has and use it for our improvement. It’s as simple as that.

Lee: Well, I think Jack is a real pussy cat to say that and I know what he means and I certainly want us to be number one too and I agree with everything he says. I think the quality should be as good as we can make it and I think the readers will always read our material, if it, uh, what they want to read.

My only feeling is, as I mention, I like to think of this whole thing as an advertising campaign and I just know that the public generally likes an underdog. And while I’m not sure we’ll lose anybody if they think we’ve grown terribly complacent and successful, I think it’s more fun for the reader to think he’s latched on to something that is sort of his little discovery and, um, it’s a little bit far out and the general public hasn’t quite discovered it yet and he can tell his friends about it. But the minute the reader feels everybody knows about Marvel and everybody likes Marvel, then I’m just afraid, while they’ll still read us, but as far as their sympathies are concerned, they may try to find something else that nobody has discovered yet-

Kirby: Well, I-

Lee: … to lavish their affection on.

Kirby: I think what the reader does not like is false humility. The reader by this time knows that Marvel is number one. He knows that Marvel is superior. He knows that Marvel has quite a number of readers.

Lee: (laughs)

Kirby: And if we were to tell them, that we are humble and, uh, that we’re not quite number one, he won’t believe it.

Lee: No. I don’t mean-

Kirby: He will not believe it.

Lee: I don’t mean tell him. I think the one thing we have never been accused of is humility, whether false or otherwise, because our readers figure we’re the most conceited group in the world and they get a kick out of it because we’re always bragging.

Kirby: That’s too true.

Lee: We call ourselves Marvel, the House of Ideas.

Kirby: (laughs)

Lee: We have phrases like “Who says this isn’t the Marvel Age of comics?” and they’re always writing letters to us, “You guys may be the most swell-headed guys in the world, but you gotta right to be and we still love you.” I don’t-

Kirby: And there you are. (laughs)

Lee: I’m not talking about humility, I’m talking about the fact that I think it would be better for us if the reader does not think of us as being on top of the heap, as far as being a rich, successful outfit. And I might be dead wrong, but then I don’t know that that’s the image I think I’d like the public to have of us.

Hodel: You’ve been listening to two of the most humble-

Lee: (laughs)Hodel: … and feared underdogs in the number one spot in the comic business, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee of Marvel Comics and, uh, this is Mike Hodel for WBAI.

Looking For The Awesome – 24. Once More Into The Breach

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We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH

Sometime in the early 1970’s a friend gave Jack a nicely bound artbook with a black blank cover as a gift, for doodling or practice. Since Jack did neither of these he used the book for a different purpose. As a present to Roz, he carefully drew most every comic creation he had had a hand in. The book took on a life of its own. Variously called Roz’s Black Book, or Kirby’s Wonderbook, the creation was a valuable treasure shown only to those close to Roz, Greg Theakston had the luck to see the book in the later 70’s and expressed to Roz that someone should publish it. Over the years several publishers approached to do just that, only to be refused by Roz because she didn’t want to be separated from the book. At some point in the 80’s Greg talked to Roz and after a stern promise not to let any harm come to the book, she allowed Greg to publish it. Greg named it the Heroes and Villains book. Greg lovingly reproduced these pages in a manner fitting the love and graphite Jack put into them. The results were substantial. Greg had to reprint the book several times in order to meet the sales. The book is a cherished part of any Kirby collection.

Just as Jack made the decision to leave DC, a relative of Steve Sherman’s arranged for jack to meet ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Paul and his new group Wings had just released a new album which contained a song called Magneto vs. Titanium Man, inspired by Jack’s comic book work. Gary (Steve’s brother) called Capitol Records headquarters in Los Angeles and spoke to the A&R man assigned to McCartney. He told the rep that Jack had done a drawing to honor Paul for the song and wondered if Paul would like to meet Jack. The AR man was well aware of who Jack Kirby was and after talking to Paul’s road people called back and told Gary that Paul would love to meet up with Jack at the Forum pre-show. Gary called the Kirby’s and told Lisa to show Jack the album and have her dad do up a sketch to give Paul. It had to be done quick as the show was in a couple hours and Jack was more than an hour away.

Just another day

When Gary arrived Jack showed him the sketch, Gary recalls it was great. It was a large size drawing of Magneto holding Paul and Linda while members of the band floated in the air. All of this done during Gary’s trip over to pick them up—not more than 45 minutes.

Gary piled them into the Kirby car and headed to the Forum, Kirby contently smoking a big ole stogie. Kirby seemed more interested in the chocolate cake promised him for the aggravation. When they arrived they went to the rear entrance where security introduced them to the lovely Linda McCartney who thanked them and gave then a tour.

Then around the corner came Paul. Gary recalled; “Ello Jack, nice to meet you.” Jack gave Paul and Linda the drawing which they thought was “smashing.” Paul thanked Jack for keeping him from going bonkers while they were recording the album in Jamaica. It seems that there was very little to do there, and they needed to keep their kids entertained. Luckily, there was a store that sold comics, so Paul would go and pick up all the latest. One night the song “Magneto and Titanium Man” popped into his head. The thing about Jack was that within a few minutes you felt as if you were best friends, so Paul too was soon laughing it up with Jack as if he had known him for years.

Lisa had her camera and snapped pictures of all involved. Paul comp’ed them some tickets and sent them out front sitting nestled between Ryan O’Neal and Michael Douglas. During the show Paul stopped and asked everyone to give it up for Jack Kirby. Jack stood up and waved just as Wings broke into Magneto vs. Titanium Man. After the gala event, as they were driving back to Thousand Oaks. Jack told Gary just how much he appreciated the evening and to show his appreciation he suggested stopping at Bob’s Big Boy for some more chocolate cake.

It should be noted that the intervening years at Marvel had been tempestuous as personnel came and went, the only new series to really succeed was a tie-in character of the barbarian Conan – a pulp character by Robert E. Howard. They were succeeding by quantity, not quality. If one Spidey title had worked, why not try two, or three. Spin-offs and reprints seemed to be the winning hand; new stuff came and went. Stan Lee had jumped around; sometimes as editor, sometimes president, and sometimes freelance contributor. The company though always kept Stan as figurehead—the smiling face that created the comics. They went so far as to place the heading “Stan Lee Presents” above all the comic titles—even when Stan had no part in them. Stan got away from the comics and started writing and editing regular books about the beginning of the Marvel revolution. Books like Origins of Marvel Comics were big hits yet the titles credited only Stan Lee. Any mention of Jack Kirby was purely as minor as noting who the illustrator was. Jack noted these slights. Roy Thomas says the reason was purely political. Kirby was now a competitor and you don’t highlight competitors. To Kirby, the truth was the truth. Despite his legend as a comic genius, when Stan had the reins of Marvel the company almost went belly up—Stan could not repeat his sales increases once Jack Kirby left.

Despite its roots as an honorary society, the Academy of Comic Book Arts, under its early president, artist Neal Adams, became an advocacy organization for creators’ rights. The comic-book industry at that time did not return artists’ physical artwork after shooting the requisite film for printing, and in some cases destroyed the artwork to prevent unauthorized reprints. The industry also did not then offer royalties or residuals, common in such creative fields as book publishing, film and television, and the recording industry. Once the ACBA — riding a wave begun by the mid-’70s independent startup Atlas/Seaboard Comics, which instituted royalties and the return of artwork in order to attract creators — helped see those immediate goals achieved, it then gradually disbanded

In 1975, the 1974 ACBA awarded its annual recognition called the Shazam Awards.

1974
Presented 1975

  • Best Continuing Feature: Conan the Barbarian (Marvel)
  • Best Individual Story: “Götterdämmerung”, Detective Comics #443 (DC)
  • Best Individual Short Story (Dramatic): “Cathedral Perilous” (Manhunter) by Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson, Detective Comics #441 (DC)
  • Best Writer (Dramatic Division): Archie Goodwin
  • Best Penciller (Dramatic Division): John Buscema
  • Best Inker (Dramatic Division): Dick Giordano
  • Best Humor Story: “Kaspar the Dead Baby” Crazy #8 (Marvel)
  • Best Writer (Humor Division): Steve Skeates
  • Best Penciller (Humor Division): Marie Severin
  • Best Inker (Humor Division): Ralph Reese
  • Best Letterer: John Costanza
  • Best Colorist: Tatjana Wood
  • Outstanding New Talent: Craig Russell
  • Superior Achievement by an Individual: Roy Thomas
  • Hall of Fame: Jack Kirby

But this didn’t mean Jack was done.

Jack ran into Roy at a convention and during the discussion Jack explains he is not all that happy at DC. Roy, taking the hint says that Marvel would love for him to return. Stan was delighted and after agreeing to terms very similar to Kirby’s DC contract such as self editing, writing and art control, Kirby agreed. Despite some initial blowback from other Marvel employees, Stan told Roy Thomas that he was bringing Jack back. “I think that’s great” Roy exclaimed, “I got one piece of advice. Don’t let him write” Stan understood but explained that part of the contract was that Kirby was the writer. Roy still liked the idea. Things were so bad at Marvel that the idea of Kirby returning must have seen like a gift from God. At a comic convention in New York, Stan made the joyful announcement to the fans that Jolly Jack was once again returning to the House of Ideas. The crowd erupted in excitement. Kirby promised that his new concepts would “electrocute the mind”. Stan just shook his head in amazement. Marie Severin – never a shrinking violet remarks about Kirby’s return to Marvel. “I came up to the office and I saw Jack, and Stan put a page in front of my face and said, “You did not see any of this!” And I said, “Okay, I did not see any of this” and I went out in the hall and yelled, “Kirby’s back!”

During the changeover, Kirby also found some outside advertising work. In response to the rise of G.I. Joe, Caption Action and other military style action figures, Mattel had manufactured the Big Jim action figure since the early 1970s. In 1975 they decided to expand and reformat the figure into a sort of Mission Impossible/merc team name P.A.C.K. Jack designed the packaging for a part of this line of action figures. Jack did not create the characters, but Big Jim and his crew of soldiers of fortune got the Kirby treatment on their boxes and comic book ads. John Buscema provided a comic insert. Ironically, Mark Evanier tells a poignant tale about how one day, he took Jack and Roz shopping, and while Roz was in the store, Mark suggested that he and Jack go into a nearby Toys R Us toy store.

Free money

Jack’s manner became stiff and shaky and he told Mark he can’t go in there, to which Mark replied that it would be ok, Roz will be a while. Still Kirby refused and Mark could see real fear in Jack’s eyes, so he changed the subject. Later when he got Roz alone he asked her about the incident, and Roz explained that when Jack would go into a Toys R Us type shop he would get physically ill from seeing so many toys based on his creations for sale, using his art, and ironically while Kirby received nothing back for all the money he was making the companies. Here he was making good money on just such advertising for characters he hadn’t created.

Everpresent Kirby characters for Marvel items c.1975

Jack’s Back!! So read the cover of FOOM #11. FOOM was Marvel’s in-house magazine. The cover featured Jack Kirby bursting thru the cover drawn by John Byrne in a Kirby style bombastic pose. Thus Marvel reintroduced Kirby to their public. It offered an error-filled history and a Kirby interview where he talks about being back at Marvel. The cover might be more symbolic than one realizes. Since Kirby left for DC, Marvel had been promoting several artists as the hot new thing, and John Byrne led the list. In fact the comic industry had entered a period that might be called the “Cult of Personality” phase where the artists, rather than the characters were presented as the selling point to the buying public. With hindsight perhaps it was Kirby’s time at DC that began the cult of personality cult. With Kirby returning, the rightful claimant to the hot artist title had returned. As noticed, Kirby had just been awarded a place in the Comic Book Arts Hall of Fame; an award that Kirby vowed not to be a signal for an end of a career, but a continuation.

In the interview Kirby explains that his first job is reintroducing Captain America. “The story I’m running now is slanted towards the Bicentennial. In fact, it’s a long running novel with many chapters in it. Each chapter is a separate but connected story. Of course, the climax of the story is going to occur on the Bicentennial in 1976. It’s going to be Captain America as he should be. Captain America winning because he has the character to win and to triumph over evil.” What Kirby describes is what we now call a mini-series, a format that would become popular a decade later. What wasn’t mentioned was the meetings with Stan where they decided just what Kirby would do. Jack refused the FF and Thor—he didn’t want to regurgitate, he wanted to create. A compromise was reached where Jack would do Captain America plus some new series. Jack refused to continue Cap, he rather start from scratch, so the ongoing story was ended mid-stream.

Steranko failing as Kirby – Byrne doing his Kirby-est

Kirby also notes that he has also started the adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey; a large format retelling of the epic Kubrick film from 1968. Plus he mentions a secret project about “gods who walk among us”. Once again, it seems Kirby had his plate full and he felt energized.

What the buying public first saw was something different. Of the titles cover dated Nov. 1975, Kirby supplied the covers for a whopping ten Marvel titles; from Fantastic Four to Conan GS #1. The following month had a couple more. None of these featured any Kirby interior art, but it was a great way to let the buyers know who the rightful king was and who Marvel thought represented the type art that sold comic books, despite having Marie Severin provide layouts and providing working sketches of characters unknown to Jack. For the next several years Kirby covers would be used to help sell non-Kirby series; this so resembled how Kirby used to draw the covers for almost all of the early Marvel titles. The reprint titles became even more oppressive a factor on the news stands that it must have looked like Kirby did twenty books a month. That same month DC published 4 Kirby inventory titles. These had all interiors done by Jack, but no covers. A very strange month.

Big and better

With the release of Captain America #193 dated Jan. 1976, customers finally saw new Kirby stories and this was unique; “Madbomb, Screamer in the Brain” was an eight part dense tale of mind control and conspiracy from within our own government. It also featured probably Kirby’s oddest cameo since Don Rickles, when Henry Kissinger paid a call on the red, white and blue Avenger, and his new pal, The Falcon. The Falcon was not a Kirby creation, but a small time black, flying character that had partnered up with Cap while Kirby was away. The black and white tension was used effectively by Jack during a scene where both men become overwhelmed by a mind altering ray and their worst tendencies took over. Henry Kissinger’s dialogue was a take off on comedian Henny Youngman. Jack always saved his best art for Captain America. Once again, Jack’s name was proudly featured on the cover.

But all was not well, While Kirby was gone, a whole new editorial crew had emerged at Marvel, and their memories weren’t as tied into Kirby’s time at Marvel. Scott Edelman was just such a person; he had been promoted to assistant editor. In an interview Scott admitted; “I know there are plenty of people who loved the work Kirby did on his return to Marvel in the ’70s, but I wasn’t one of them. I can remember sitting in the Bullpen and proofing the original art for Jack’s first issue back on Captain America, and just feeling … sad. I still feel that nothing Kirby did alone could compare with the work he did Stan Lee—in my opinion, they needed each other—but looking back on how I expressed myself then, I know I came off like an ungrateful brat. And I don’t like that. After all Kirby did for us, we should have been happy to be able to read whatever he was willing to give us, whether it was up to the old days or not.” Kirby might have lost some, but Stan Lee had totally lost his mojo. He had not created anything or written anything memorable in years. The only memorable Lee story was a novelty effort where Spider-Man took on the drug trade. The story was nothing much, but the fight with the code ramped up the interest. With Stan shuffled off to the background, there was no one there who could have improved Jack’s stories.

Jack’s new series may not have been the same Stan Lee style adventure, but it had a vision and an energy no other Marvel editor had. No one else had a yearlong plan for their books. The dialogue wasn’t Lee’s glibness, but the plot was as dense and active as ever found with Kirby’s pacing on the Captain America saga among his best ever. Kirby even made the Falcon an interesting partner.

When asked about working on a non-Kirby character like the Falcon, Kirby explained: “I feel the Falcon is a very valid super-hero. He’s a strong type, and a team operation is just as effective as a single, if it’s really good, and that’s what I’m trying to make it.”

One of Marvel’s reprint books was a series titled Marvel Treasury Editions. These were reprints, but in a larger, more explosive size and format. Kirby supplied several covers for these issues, and he really liked the large size pages. It allowed him to make the backgrounds more emphatic, something that was lost when the page size was reduced in the late ‘60s. He also did two full books in this size and they may have been the best things he did during this new stint. 2001: A Space Odyssey was a comic book adaptation of Kubrick’s sci-fi film, and no artist but Kirby could have captured the majesty and the power of Kubrick’s visuals.. Kirby also colored parts of the book and the work is breath taking. Each page is a stand- alone masterpiece of innovation and design.

Kubrik’s masterpiece – Kirby always did his best for Captain America

For the country’s bicentennial, Kirby created a huge allegorical tale of Cap as seen thru American history. In Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, Cap is given the ability to go back in time and see how he would have influenced the course of US history. We see him during the Revolutionary War, frolicking with Ben Franklin and inspiring Betsy Ross to create a red, white, and blue flag with stars. We see him just before the Civil War assisting a slave fleeing for freedom, and in a WW1 aerial dogfight, and most poignantly during the Great Depression helping out a scrappy young news boy being strong armed by gangsters, a youngster who promises to be a big-shot comic artist one day, and make the gangsters pay for their cruelty. Cap also returns to his darkest day, the day Bucky died during WW2. All this time travel is similar to James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Buda, the little guy who sent Cap thru time and space is trying to shake the depression from Cap over the bad things he sees in the US and make him realize all the great moments, and the role he has played in making the US great. It ends with Kirby’s most heartfelt patriotic sentiment. Cap tells a group of young teens, “I’m looking for something bigger than any super-villain—and I think I’ve found it here among you young people. It isn’t an object exactly, it’s a terrific feeling that we can become strong enough and smart enough to beat the overwhelming problems which every American has to live with.’ The young kids respond “Yeah, We can be anything we want to! And Cap/Kirby says; “That’s America! A place of stubborn confidence—where both young and old can hope and dream, and wade though disappointment, despair, and the crunch of events—with the chance of making life meaningful.” What a great valentine for America from one of its true heroes; a boy born of nothing who through grit and pluck became its greatest storyteller.

The next big news was the release of Kirby’s “gods who walk among us” series. Originally titled “The Return of the Gods”, but because of the closeness to a new DC title, it was changed to “The Eternals” Coincidentally, the DC title was called “The Return of the New Gods” which brought Kirby’s New Gods concepts back into DC’s universe. It should also be noted that the other Fourth World characters didn’t disappear; they all showed up in the showcase title Brave and the Bold with long time DC characters.

True to his source

The Eternals was a sprawling cosmic tale of a collection of Celestial beings who have returned to Earth. It seems that these beings have visited Earth several times in the long past and have done experiments on the bestial inhabitants that evolved into three separate races, who have unknowingly cohabitated the Earth. The first race was mankind, who settled on the land and cultivated and prospered. The second race was the Eternals, a group of near gods who were gifted with super powers and virtual immortality. Their homes were the mountain tops. The third race was the Deviants, a group of demons and monstrous beasts who resided in the depths of the seas. In the far past these three races did intermingle, and from those times stories of godlike creatures who inhabited the heavens, and devilish creatures who inhabited the inner Earth were told. After some battles among the races they separated and left each other alone. But with the return of the Celestials, it has become necessary for the three races to work together, for the role of the Celestials was to judge mankind and if found wanting, to destroy it. This tale was part Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods , part 2001 A Space Odyssey, part Jewish mythology, and part Aztek and Roman/Greco mythology, and mostly Jack’s manic imagination. It was as far out as any story ever told, An old problem soon arose. Jack’s story couldn’t easily fit into Marvel’s universe, so the editor asked for some cross-over characters to interact in his tale. Kirby managed to squeeze in a few references to SHIELD without actually having Nick Fury appear, but eventually he relented and threw in a story about a remote controlled robotic Hulk that misfires and runs amok, and the hero Ikaris has to subdue it.

Kirby bristled but took it like a man and gave them what they wanted. Not unlike the New Gods, the Eternals problems were Kirby made. It was too sprawling and no easy way for newcomers to work their way in. Its dark operatic tone did not fit into Marvel’s happy friendly milieu. After 19 issues, and an Annual, the series ended. But as always, the characters had become a part of the Marvel Universe, and still show up in different ways. No other Marvel series had such a scope.

Another pop-sci-fi favorite fell into Jack’s lap when Stan Lee turned a proposed series based on the cult favorite TV show The Prisoner in Jack’s direction. The Prisoner was a short lived British spy genre show starring Patrick McGoohan as a spy, whose retirement is interrupted when he is shunted off to a sinister remote Island run by a faceless corporate entity that restricts his movement and access to the outside world- literally a scenic prison. Originally scheduled to be produced by writer Steve Englehart and artist Gil Kane, the rejected project was handed off to Kirby. Perhaps due to Kirby’s familiarity and appeal to paranoid, dystopian concepts, and man against corporation struggles. Amazingly, Jack was given the job of writing the script as well as illustrating the tale. Jack produced just one issue’s worth of art, and it contains the first half of the original origin story from the TV show titled “The Arrival”. Mike Royer inked and lettered just five pages when the project came to a halt. The few pages ever published show a very restrained, almost claustrophobic Kirby—heavy in text and lacking his usual bombast and explosiveness. Though true to the source material, it appears that the cerebral nature of the show might have been too much of a restriction to Kirby’s natural inclinations—but it would have been interesting if Kirby was allowed to take the concepts in his own direction.

Kirby trying to be faithful

Ever since the late 1960’s, Marvel’s financial position had been heading South. It remained the industry leader, but its value had dropped dangerously. Jim Galton, the CEO actually talked about bankruptcy. Roy Thomas had been hired to help relieve Stan’s burden. For the first couple years, he played a small role. His position at times was one of derision. Jack’s caricature of Roy as Funky Flashman’s toady was not that far off. Roy had been tasked with the lowest, most meaningless titles. But lightning struck one day when he was told to get Marvel a license for a sword and sorcery title. His first instinct was that the one he wanted would be too expensive, but surprisingly, the Estate of Robert Howard was practically begging for someone to publish new Conan stories. Despite little urging from the powers that be, Roy found his cheap art source and created the only real success Marvel would have for the next 5 years. The success of Conan did not make Marvel suddenly profitable, but it helped stem the hemorrhaging. But by 1976, even Conan could no longer stop the flow; nothing Marvel put out was helping. Very little came from merchandising and licensing of their products.

With this success, Marvel expanded into the licensing market and other properties from outside were added. Thongor and Kull became a part of Marvel’s Universe. In 1976 Stan Lee had a meeting with film-producer George Lucas, about creating a comic book based on a new movie called Star Wars. Stan was of the opinion that a new “space opera” was not really salable, and passed. George Lucas and his partner in the Supersnipe Comic Shop Ed Summer went to Roy Thomas – the golden boy since Conan – and made the same proposal. At this dinner George Lucas was relaying his story for Star Wars in which Roy Thomas noticed it sounded a lot like Jack Kirby’s New Gods. What Roy took away from this part of the dinner was that George Lucas was hugely indebted to Jack Kirby for Star Wars. Roy’s feelings were more positive and after further negotiations, Roy was able to obtain the licensing free. Just the opposite where Goodman once gave the movies free rights to Captain America, now the movies gave a comic publisher free rights hoping for good public feedback. All Lucas asked for was that the books hit the stands before the movie so that it could help the build-up.

With the go ahead, Roy again ignored the more expensive and perhaps, more logical penciller, and went to a lower tier artist who had done sword and sorcery work for Roy. Howard Chaykin was hired for the first edition.

Guest starring Dr. Doom?????

Jim Shooter-soon to be editor-in-chief explained the results;

“The first two issues of our six (?) issue adaptation came out in advance of the movie.  Driven by the advance marketing for the movie, sales were very good.  Then about the time the third issue shipped, the movie was released.  Sales made the jump to hyperspace.

Star Wars the movie stayed in theaters forever, it seemed.  Not since the Beatles had I seen a cultural phenomenon of such power.  The comics sold and sold and sold.  We reprinted the adaptation in every possible format.  They all sold and sold and sold.

In the most conservative terms, it is inarguable that the success of the Star Wars comics was a significant factor in Marvel’s survival through a couple of very difficult years, 1977 and 1978.”

Once again, Roy Thomas – the almost forgotten gofer had become the hero; as Jim Shooter says, “Roy Thomas saved Marvel” And it came from outside. The success of Star Wars finally helped lift all boats. Jim Galton says that Star Wars comics made him rich—and after some begrudging, he offered Roy Thomas a $500 bonus. Nice guy!

Nestled deep in the beautiful Tuscan treeswept landscape is a miraculous walled town of Lucca, Italy. Its claim to fame is that the famed musician Puccini was born in this sleepy little Renaissance town. Oddest of all, it has become the center of the comic book fan industry as every Oct. it is transformed into a costumed Mecca of comic fans. Since 1966, since the con was moved to Lucca, it has become the center of European fandom. In 1976, Lucca decided that Jack Kirby should be the honoree of the convention. The group running it sent Jack and Roz tickets to show up. Jack was wined and dined and treated like royalty. The main event was held in an old Renaissance opera house that intimidated Jack and Roz. Most seemed to be a whirl of activities and wrestling with translators. Jack recalls; KIRBY: “Well, actually, there were two awards. There was a plaque which was presented to me by the mayor of Lucca, and it has the image of the opera house on it. It is a substantial award, in weight anyhow. I believe it is an etching of the opera house of Lucca which, of course, I am always going to remember because it was so colorful. The other award was a gold-plated statuette of the Yellow Kid, mounted on Italian marble. And, it has an inscription on the statuette itself which is in the dialogue of the Yellow Kid, which in turn, I believe, is supposed to be the first comic strip ever done.” Shel Dorf asked him about the Italian people; Do they have good restaurants? KIRBY: “Their restaurants are terrific. They have terrific restaurants, they have terrific food, and they have terrific personnel who serve you. It is a pleasure eating in any Italian dining place. I hope that many more Americans go there, and enjoy themselves as much as I did.”

Lucca is for comic lovers

Kirby was certainly enjoying his new found celebrity in his later years. Years later, a dream came true when Jack and Roz accompanied a group from their Temple to The Holy Land. One can only imagine what Kirby drew and slipped into the Wailing Wall.

Roy Thomas wanted Kirby back on a company product and they chose the Black Panther. Kirby’s African chief had gone through several incarnations, straight super hero, an Avenger, and lately a social force taking on the Klan and racism. What I have often wondered was, why not ask Jack Kirby to do the Star Wars book when Roy personally thought the premise was ripped from Jack Kirby, plus he wanted Jack to do a company property. Jack was the best at “space opera”. Why give him a decade old 2001 adaptation but not give him a new book? I think Marvel missed the boat here. Despite the dropping of the Prisoner project, Roy did talk Jack into renewing the Black Panther. When Kirby took it over, he took the Panther on an even stranger route. The Panther was now an archeological treasure hunter, and his prize was a Biblical artifact of immense power. His search would take him on many an adventure and even bring him into conflict with an alien life force of great power, plus an undersized companion and a new femme fatale. His search was also thwarted by other searchers, who also wanted the mystical relic. This storyline effectively took the Panther out of the current Marvel Universe and once again seemed to isolate the other Marvel bullpenners. But in mid-1977, something else caught their attention and kept them busy.

In May 1977, the film Star Wars hit the screen. No film had ever influenced pop culture so immediately before or since this film. It was a phenomenon. Space Opera on film would never be the same. The special effects were leap years ahead of any space film before it. The scope of the story, and the mixture of genres was comparable to only one thing; Kirby’s New Gods trilogy. His villain looked like Dr. Doom. The interfamily dispute, the father son dynamic, The “source/force” similarity. That the evil presence was actually called the dark side, as compared to Darkseid. Even the grouping of characters was similar to Kirby’s time tested template. The heroic pilot, the hot headed kid, the burly brawny sidekick, and the elderly mystical mentor, could all be found in Kirby’s road tested template. The movie justified Kirby’s belief that people could accept a sprawling, action packed, space opera that worked on many different levels. The special effects ability had finally reached the point to match what comics had been doing for decades. The ability to add mass, detail and scale took out the campy look most sci-fi movies had been saddled with.

Kirby returns to the black Avenger with a twist

After several years dormancy, Marvel products once again started appearing in movie and TV productions. Late 1977 would find a Lee/Kirby creation back on TV; The Incredible Hulk was given the full live action treatment in a pair of made-for-TV movies. The show starred Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner, and body builder Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The movies were well received and in March 1978 became a weekly TV series. The series eschewed the sci-fi super-hero genre and centered on a “Fugitive-like” serial concerning research scientist Dr. Banner. Wanted for crimes, he escapes and travels around the country where he meets different people in moments of crisis and peril. Dr. Banner transforms into the Hulk in moments of extreme rage and the rampaging brute takes care of all villains and people of bad intent. Banner is hounded by a newspaper reporter in a Javert-like obsessive search to prove his eyewitness account of a brutish monster was true. The comparison was intentional, producer and writer Kenneth Johnson’s first instinct was to turn down the series, but then, while reading the Victor Hugo novel, Les Misérables, he became inspired and began working to develop the Hulk comic into a TV show. This aversion of comic book clichés and their accoutrements allowed the series to be taken seriously while still amazing the kids with the awesome transformation into the gruesome green monster. Though actually getting little screen time, Ferrigno’s mute monster played up the misunderstood lovable monster first seen in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

At the same time Nicholas Hammond portrayed Peter Parker in a TV version of Spider-man.

Jack was of several minds concerning the show. Once again Marvel produced an outside product without crediting Jack for his part in the creation, and Jack received no moneys from the leasing of the product. But Jack really liked the finished product. He loved Bill Bixby and thought the producers treated the creation respectfully and avoided the campiness of most TV super-hero shows such as Batman and Wonder Woman. In the second season, Jack even weaseled his way into a small cameo role as a police artist who had to draw a sketch from a crime victim’s description.

Kirby gets a cameo

In 1979, CBS produced two Captain America made for TV movies. Played by pretty boy Reb Brown in a silly costume hoping to get a series; they were so bad the idea died soon. The new Cap was the son of the original Cap. It was sort of Evel Knievel in a pair of blue pj’s. As usual; no credit for Jack and Joe.

On Jan. 1, 1978, the Copyright Law of 1978 took effect. This was the first make over of copyright laws since 1909. The reasoning behind coming up with a total new law was threefold; first because of the various new technologies that came to be after 1909. Many of the laws simply didn’t address the realities of duplication techniques that now existed. Second was to bring US copyright law into compliance with that of other countries because we were expected to become a signatory to the Berne Agreement, which controlled most of Europe. Third was to address the many loopholes and carve outs that had arisen due to 70 years of litigation and corporate strong-arming. This third area was what concerned the comic industry so much. There were two immediate concerns. First was that under the new law, original art was now clearly owned by the original artists. The company only paid for reproduction rights. So now as soon as the companies made their stats, the original art was shipped back to the artists. Second, the companies had always claimed that the artists were commissioned under what was called “work for hire” status. Their art and creations were owned exclusively by the companies and the artists had no rights to them.

The new law did not end the onerous “work for hire” status but decreed that work for hire must be agreed to in writing by both sides for it to be legal. So the artists who had worked for decades without any contracts now had to sign specific contracts for their services. What the law didn’t do was clarify how all those pieces created prior to the new contracts would be viewed for copyright purposes. Another change was that the tenure of copyright ownership was lengthened from 56 years to life of artist plus 50

And a clause that would really rattle the industry, though its effects wouldn’t be felt until the ‘90s, was that after 56 years of a company owning the copyrights, the law mandated that the rights reverted back to the creator. Not only would the rights revert to the artist, but the artist could not legally sign away that right. The idea is simple. Originally when an artist created a work, he would own the copyrights for 56 years. The artist had the right to assign those rights (lease) for a period of no more than 28 years. The reasoning was that 28 years was long enough for the leasee to exploit the property but then the copyright reverted back to the original creator to take advantage of any increase of value that the property had accrued in the 28 year period. So the artist now had a second bite of the apple and was able to sell the rights again, either to the same leasee, if the artist was happy with them, or, to a second company to exploit the copyright anew. This second bite of the apple was effectively removed when publishers, using their stronger negotiating position of power forced the artists to sign away not only the first but also the second 28 year term before they would publish the work. The Supreme Court ruled in a very important case that it was legal for the publishers to force the artist to sign both terms away at first publication because the law never specifically refused the artists from doing so. The new law removed this possibility by allowing for an automatic return of copyright after the initial copyright term (now 35 years) and for those caught in between, for the mandated return after the completed second term of copyright, not to exceed 56 years. The law also made clear that any contract that tried to circumnavigate the termination clause was unenforceable. So any artist forced to sign away his copyrights beyond the second 28 years found that that forced contract was invalid. Most of these changes were phased in over time, but it strengthened a movement already growing among the artists. That they had some power to demand changes in the way the comic industry worked; such as money for reprints, and artists owning the copyrights of their characters, and return of their entire stash of original art, plus proper credit for the work. The pendulum has started to swing from complete control by the company to a shared reward for successful properties. All those reasons that caused people like Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby and Wally Wood to leave Marvel, were now being addressed in favor of the artists. The industry was being forced to enter the Twentieth Century.

After the publication of the oversized 2001, it was decided that Kirby should continue his cosmic explorations, but from a familiar source. In the ongoing monthly series 2001 A Space Odyssey, Kirby expanded on his own concepts as well as some from Kubrick’s film. Where are we going? Somewhere in the dawn of time we began — somehow, in these perilous times we keep moving on — and sometime in the future, something will happen to change us! This was Kirby’s introduction for the series, not an easy premise to live up to.

From 2001, Kirby did it just for fun – just another page an inkers nightmare

But Steve Sherman says that space travel and aliens just came naturally to Jack. “I remember one evening just sitting with him, and I’d just read the book Rendezvous With Rama. I’m sitting talking to Jack about flying saucers and things like that, and Jack always claimed he could see UFOs from his picture window in Thousand Oaks, and you’d believe it. And in the space of about 45 minutes, Jack’d come up with 13 different stories about flying saucers and people meeting them; an entire series. Complete stories, telling me about the characters, the beginning, the middle, the end, the whole thing. It was just amazing.”

New comics and a lot of covers for others

The series focused on people and events affected by the monolith throughout time and space. In most issues we see an event from our distant past and through contact with the monolith this event is echoed in the distant future; a one issue time travelogue. In a latter issue, a new recurring character emerged, Mr. Machine, a machine made sentient via the monolith, who was trying to fit into a world that didn’t trust or want him; shades of Eando Binder’s Adam Link. Kirby had done something similar with the character Quasimodo in the FF. Quasi was a machine made into a sentient being by the power of the Silver Surfer. 2001 ended quietly after 10 issues—when the license with the movie ended, but Mr. Machine went on to get his own series; renamed Machine Man due to the closeness of a toy character, and he became a type of reluctant searching super-hero. This series lasted several years, even after Kirby left Marvel again. The concept survives to this day.

None of Kirby’s Marvel series really exploded, and soon there were rumblings from within the company. Some of the young upstarts started referring to Jack as Jack the Hack, or as a has-been who no longer had the magic touch, perhaps even a bit senile. There were rumors of editors salting the letter columns of Kirby’s books with negative letters. But mostly they resented Kirby’s independence; his unwillingness to work with others who wanted to write books for Kirby to illustrate. Kirby had earned this independence and he held unto it fearlessly. But Kirby’s natural optimism was dimming. His art, to many, seemed to be slipping into a parody of his style.

During the Seventies, Marvel’s management had made a complete changeover from those during the Lee/Kirby/Ditko days to a new generation absent any connection to its birth. Kirby suddenly had to work with and respond to unfamiliar people of little or no history. Scott Edelman was a new assistant editor, and he was given the job of proofreading and correcting Jack’s books. Scott remembered;  “ I know there are plenty of people who loved the work Kirby did on his return to Marvel in the ’70s, but I wasn’t one of them. I can remember sitting in the Bullpen and proofing the original art for Jack’s first issue back on Captain America, and just feeling … sad. I still feel that nothing Kirby did alone could compare with the work he did Stan Lee—in my opinion, they needed each other—but looking back on how I expressed myself then, I know I came off like an ungrateful brat. And I don’t like that. After all Kirby did for us, we should have been happy to be able to read whatever he was willing to give us, whether it was up to the old days or not.” Other minor management people, like new assistant editor Ralph Macchio seemed to delight in filling Kirby’s letter columns with negative letters.

Jim Shooter, when he became the big guy, looked at this in dismay. “I cannot imagine what the people putting the letter columns together were thinking. Were they trying to be “fair and balanced,” and show that some people were disappointed with what Jack was doing? Was it that they, themselves, were disappointed with what Jack was doing and weighted the lettercols to express their POV? Putting together a negative lettercol is stupid, amateurish and/or malicious.”

“It reached a point where Kirby went to Shooter to complain. Jim recalls; “When I became EIC, again, I didn’t have time to check up on what I assumed was a no-brainer operation that no one would screw up, that is, lettercols, until Jack called me to complain about them. I’ve told that story elsewhere on the blog. It was, as I recall, the only time ever that Jack complained about anything. I felt terrible that we had let him down so badly.”

During the mid-Seventies the companies started to shift from the old newsstand distribution to a new plan called direct market system, which sold comics on a non-returnable basis. During this changeover, the companies used both as the direct sales market was trying to expand to all areas. The companies knew that selling on a non-return basis was much more profitable as it removed the returned books that had to be counted and subtracted from the print run. Yet the older newsstand system hit the whole market and still accounted for a large part of the business. This split dichotomy produced some interesting results. In some newsstand areas individual retailers would bypass the distributors and buy up the books before it reached the retailers. This hoarding caused havoc on the companies as their books weren’t reaching all markets; creating holes in the series runs. In those few cons that sprang up in larger cities, these few dealers had massive amounts of books that the common buyer could never find at the store level, and could only be bought at inflated prices. Another problem was that selling 10,000 issues on the direct market meant much more profit to the company than selling 10,000 issues at the newsstands, since they also might include 10,000 copies returned for credit. Jim Shooter talks about how this might affect specific books and artists. Jim said; “though Jack’s books did not sell well on the newsstands, because, I think, to casual readers they seemed old-fashioned and un-hip, they sold gangbusters in the nascent direct market, as well or better than the X-Men, and far more than all other titles. I remember noticing that a couple of Jack’s books were selling upwards of 30,000 copies — just about enough to break even all direct — at a time when Spider-Man, the Avengers, etc., were selling closer to 10,000 direct. “

A lot of themes for an R.E. Howard salute

In 1978, Jack was commissioned to provide an illustration for a fantasy book called Ariel-The Book of Fantasy. He provided a beautifully whimsical and creepy two–page illo for a Robert E. Howard poem called “Musings”. The drawing was light and airy—filled with fairies and other fey iconography—as well as monsters and mystics –perhaps foretelling some of Kirby’s future animation work. Ariel was a large size art book that focused on fantasy stories. The issue Jack appeared in had an evocative Barry Windsor-Smith cover. I am not sure how Kirby’s participation came about. A review of the magazine by noted Sci-Fi critiquer Tarbandu expounds.

“Ariel: The Book of Fantasy’ (1978) was one of the more unusual experiments in retail fantasy literature and art publishing in the mid-70s. There were four issues (‘volumes’) printed between 1976 and 1978.

‘Ariel’ was a large (12 “x 9 “, 80 – 100 pp), full-color magazine printed on quality paper stock, and featured illustrated fiction and comics from a number of well-known genre authors and artists. Ariel carried a steep cover price ($6.95) for the mid 70’s, which unfortunately placed it out of ready reach for the burgeoning, but young and poor, generation of SF and fantasy fans then starting to make their economic presence felt (albeit if only in a modest way). After four issues had been produced Ballantine decided to pull the plug on the magazine, and there really hasn’t been anything quite like it on the retail shelves since (perhaps a sign that this form of publication just doesn’t strike much of a chord with the US buying public).

Issue three of ‘Ariel’ (edited by Thomas Durwood) featured as its cover an arresting illustration (‘Devil’s Lake’) by the English artist Barry Windsor-Smith, who is the subject of an interview in the magazine. By 1978 Windsor-Smith had long since departed Marvel and ‘Conan’, and was making a living as a studio artist. The interview is an informative one and touches on the artist’s philosophy of the ‘New Romantic’ movement in art and illustration, and his admiration for the artists of the Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite eras.

Among the other entries in volume three is a new Elric story, ‘The Last Enchantment’, by Michael Moorcock, with illustrations by Tim Conrad; a poem by Robert E. Howard, ‘Musings’, with an illustration by Jack ‘King’ Kirby; an admirable comic adaption of Harlan Ellison’s story ‘Along the Scenic Route’ by Al Williamson; and a short story, ‘The Halls of the Frost Giants’, by Alexander Heart, with illustrations (in an Arthur Rackham style) by Michael Hague.

The quality of the reproductions appearing in the magazine is quite good, particularly when one remembers that ‘Ariel’ appeared in the pre-computer-based typesetting and printing era.”

Jack’s drawing was of two natures, like a lot of Kirby’s better work. At once optimistic and whimsical it was also foreboding and scary. Much like Howard’s work, it possesses multiple sides of human nature.

Some wonky figures but a feeling of rapture – Silver Surfer gets a flying f**k with Loni Anderson

In late 1976 a long mentioned project came up; Stan wanted to do a graphic novel with Jack of the Silver Surfer–possibly as a vehicle for a movie project. Graphic novels were new: a long form format telling one big story in a novelized package, including a hard cover and painted sleeve. Instead of monthly serials, a whole story in one thick package. The idea intrigued Jack.

Meticulous research by Greg Theakston gave us the behind the scenes skinny. The rights to the Silver Surfer had been optioned to producer Lee Kramer. The plans called for a huge budgeted production complete with Rock Opera music and staging. The story was the telling of Galactus’ and the Surfer’s contact with the Earth. Since the FF’s options were held by another company, they would be excluded. Without the FF, they needed another strong presence, preferably a female presence that could be played by Kramer’s then girlfriend, Olivia Newton-John, a beautiful singer who was transitioning into films. Kramer was a lifelong fan of the Silver Surfer, and now that he had clout in Hollywood, he wanted to go forward on the product. “Doing the Silver Surfer has always been a dream of mine and now it was going to be realized.” Kramer told a film magazine.

Kramer’s resume’ was checkered, he started out as a farmer, and an antique dealer. He had met Olivia Newton-John five years previously and had become her manager. With her, he had produced several well received TV shows, and a couple of movies like Xanadu. His Silver Surfer was scheduled for release in 1981. Olivia Newton-John proved her bankability with her appearance in Grease, the very successful movie based on the Broadway play.

With this go-ahead, Stan and Jack had a story conference and Jack got right to work. This was good for Jack as he had been falling behind on his contracted amount of pages for Marvel. (though I could not find any gap in the printed books that would cause a loss of pages) According to Greg; ”When Jack turned in the pages, they were accompanied by a fully realized plot on paper. When Lee called for his usual changes, Jack was displeased, but acted like a professional and complied. After all, a lot of money was being gambled.“

Stan Lee didn’t stand silent, Using all of his bluster and hucksterism, Stan told a magazine, “The Silver Surfer is still on the way to being a big movie. Lee Kramer, who’s going to produce it, is at this very moment in Australia and I think he’s renting the whole continent as the setting! He found a scientist in England who is working on something called linear induction. At the moment he has this linear induction worked out so it can make a surfboard go this high above the ground and really travel with a man on it. They promise me by the time the thing is filmed, they’ll get the surfboard that high. They get the camera underneath it, they paint the sky–it’ll look like he’s out in space!” Lee also said he’d be “closely involved” with the making of the movie and that the Surfer “will probably fight Galactus” in the film.”

Kramer’s relationship with Newton-John was precarious, and when it eventually broke up, the money dissolved and the production ended. Newton-John was the selling point; not Lee Kramer. All that was left to show for this effort was Kirby and Lee’s historic book to be published by major publisher Simon and Schuster. It was a success, published in both hardcover and softcover. It has since been reprinted.

At 100 pages, the art had some of Kirby’s old spark, but there were differences between Kirby’s and Stan’s ideas. One seemed to be an attempt to modernize Kirby’s formatting. Sprinkled in among the pages were bad attempts at Neal Adam’s style jagged panels. The results were jarring. Stan Lee provided some of his most pretentious dialogue in order to add grandeur to the tale. Stan wanted to add gravitas to the story. The results were laughable. Kirby compromised as well as did Stan and the finished product was fairly good, not great, but a solid piece of work from these two old war horses. Interesting to note that Kirby’s Golden girl seems more modeled after the buxom, curvaceous Loni Anderson rather than the slim svelte Olivia Newton-John; a much better choice in my mind.

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Looking For The Awesome – 23. Why Did The Fourth World Fail?

Previous22. Allegory Of His Life | Contents | Next24. Once More Into The Breach

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

WHY DID THE FOURTH WORLD FAIL?

Actually this is somewhat of a misnomer; the Fourth World books did not fail. The characters and worlds that Jack Kirby created are still alive and ever-present in the current DC continuity, and comic reality. Darkseid is at the top of DC’s villain pantheon. Yet it is obvious that the original series did not make the immediate impression necessary for DC to continue them. So while I can’t label them a failure, they certainly weren’t a rousing success either.

Much has been made- and very little convincingly-that for some unexplained reason, Carmine Infantino undercut Kirby’s series. The suggestion is that Infantino, in some Machiavellian scheme had simply hired Jack Kirby away from Marvel with the mistaken impression that without Kirby, Marvel would fold.

How absurd! First, Carmine and Jack were longtime friends before and after Kirby’s tenure at DC. Carmine had personally sought out and hired Kirby, giving Jack an unprecedented four books to tell his tales, and DC had followed through with a huge advertising blitz spotlighting Kirby’s new books; hardly the action of an editor and company who cared not if Kirby succeeded.

As for sabotaging Marvel, Carmine was an editor; his job was to sell books, not work behind the scenes trying to undermine the competition. At the time that Kirby left Marvel he was doing two monthly books and the occasional filler strip; less than one twentieth of Marvels output, no one could imagine that his leaving Marvel would cause irreparable damage to them.

Editors have to answer to owners and bean counters; they don’t cancel books that are profitable, but they might cancel a borderline seller if they think the creator might have better sales with a different concept. Not so different from Stan Lee transferring Jim Steranko from the poor selling Agent of SHIELD, to the better selling Captain America. Carmine didn’t fire Kirby, he simply shifted him in another direction in the hopes that the next idea might be the blockbuster title he so wanted. I see no evidence that there was any personal animosity or political intrigue behind what happened to Kirby, just an editor doing what editors do–right or wrong.

Now saying this, I am intrigued that just after Kirby left DC, they began bringing back some of the Fourth World characters, more intermingled in the regular DC continuity. But I think that might have happened anyway, copyrights demand that a concept be used periodically and it’s not unusual for dormant characters to be returned to active duty for a short period and then return to the trash bin. It happened with some of Ditko’s characters created just before Kirby came to DC. Plus there was a regime change just after Kirby left and Carmine was gone and new editors took over. It’s possible that they saw the sales figures and compared to what DC was than selling, those figures looked good.

I have come to the conclusion that Kirby’s Fourth World series failed for five specific reasons; four were industry changes beyond Kirby’s and Carmine’s control, and a fifth that Kirby might have changed but it would have gutted any sense of grandeur and “epicness” from the concept.

The first reason was simple bad timing. The comic industry was caught in one of its cyclical downswings, and nowhere was this more evident than DC. DC was hemorrhaging! Stan Lee and the boys had produced a new generation of readers to whom DC had become anathema. Marvel Zombies didn’t do DC. In some ways Jack’s past success at Marvel prevented him from growing a new crop of readers. It was around this time that Marvel’s total sales eclipsed DC’s, and DC’s continued falling. DC was gasping and even Kirby couldn’t overcome the perception.

Nothing that Infantino tried since he became editor had worked; despite artistic and writing changes, many longtime series such as Green Lantern, Aquaman and the Atom had reached bottom and were jettisoned. And none of the myriad new series, despite quality work from such artists as Steve Ditko, Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson had caught on; in fact, it was rare for them to last more than 6-7 issues.

DC of the early ‘70’s was much like the comic industry of today; nothing they tried caught the public’s fancy and the editorial turmoil meant that the editors had to show immediate results or they and the series got canned. There simply was no time for a series to grow organically, steadily building a hardcore following with new readers joining with each issue. The results had to be immediate and overwhelming, so instead of new concepts, they simply retold and packaged the popular characters in new books

But to Jack’s credit, his series did last longer than most. Perhaps Kirby did have a core constituency that followed him–not large enough to guarantee success, but large enough to try to build on. Perhaps Carmine felt that with some fine tuning the series had a chance The Deadman issues of Forever People and the makeover of Mister Miracle from Apokolyptian palace intrigue into a typical super-hero strip may have been attempts to widen their appeal, especially among the many die-hard DC fans who had resisted the Kirbyization of DC.

Either way, DC of the early ‘70s was a black hole even Kirby’s cosmic light couldn’t escape; which brings us to reason #2.

When Marvel finally got out from under the yoke of DC’s distribution company in 1968, they embarked on a program of expansion that would see them go from fewer than 20 titles to over 40 in two years and upwards of 60 by the mid-Seventies; first by increasing their super-hero line, than by adding sword and sorcery and horror titles and then romance and westerns. But most of all they flooded the market with reprint titles. In a normal market this possibly would not have had any effect on Kirby’s Fourth World titles, but this wasn’t a normal market. While Marvel was expanding their line, the retail reality was that the outlets were either maintaining the same space or cutting back due to smaller profit margins, which meant that new titles had to fight for space like never before. This same thing happened after World War 2 with the easing of paper restrictions the companies glutted the stands, with the result that many new titles were returned unopened or got pushed to the side in favor of better known quantities. If one ran a mom and pop store and were faced with carrying only 50 titles from among 5-6 companies, you naturally would choose the fifty most popular, or at least well-known titles. Mister Miracle had to fight with Spider-man, FF, Batman, Superman and the other long-time favorites for decreasing space in a shrinking market. It’s no wonder that new series failed much more often than succeeded. Outside of large markets, just finding these titles was a major battle. This flooding of the market was an old stratagem of Martin Goodman’s; in fact it was his usual m.o. when he controlled his own distribution. It should have come as no surprise that as soon as he had the chance he would revert to old ways. The big change was that Marvel had become a big fish and his glutting was killing DC, the largest fish.

Reason #3 may be Martin Goodman’s final stroke of genius. As revenues from advertising declined (due to the shrinking market) the companies felt the need to raise the cover price. DC decided to jump from 15 cents all the way to 25cents, while enlarging their books with low cost reprints. Two months later Marvel followed suit making their titles a similar 25cents. But after one month, Marvel reduced the price down to 20cents and shrunk their size back down to 20 pages, giving the impression that they were reducing the price while in reality they were raising the price for a smaller package.

Only $.25 reprints for free

What this did was allow Marvel to offer a larger percent to the dealers giving the retailers more profit for the same size book, and more of an incentive to push Marvel’s titles. So not only were Kirby’s new books fighting for actual space in a shrinking market, the dealers were actively pushing the competitor’s goods for a few cent’s more an issue. Plus, the kids could get more titles for their buck; a win-win for Marvel.

This changeover happened about the time of the fourth issue of the main titles, At a time when the books were desperately looking for new readers, the retailers had another reason to either not order the books, or to minimize the amount and the prominence of the titles. The really sad part is how long it took for DC to react to this maneuver. The 25 centers lasted about nine months before they were reduced to 20 cents. By this time the Kirby titles sales had dropped as had all of DC’s books, and the writing was on the wall. Some have charged that Goodman’s ploy was sleazy, but it wasn’t Goodman’s actions, but DC’s inaction that hurt so much. Just as today, these behind the scene industry games point out just how little quality matters if the product can’t get to market, which brings us to another aspect that actually may have been the most damaging to Kirby’s series.

#4 was serious. With the huge proliferation of Marvel’s reprint books, Kirby’s new DC books were in direct competition with Kirby’s old Marvel books. From the very beginning of Jack’s DC tenure, Marvel actually had more Kirby covers and more Kirby pages published each month than did DC. So for any new or casual reader, which was still the lifeblood of the industry, the appearance was that Jack Kirby was still pumping out titles for Marvel, on popular characters, at a cheaper price. If one accepts the premise that a new generation of comic readers occurs every five years, these reprint books were just as new and topical as the Fourth World books.

For examples, let’s look at certain periods. Between Oct 1970 when Kirby’s first DC book appeared and Feb, 1971 when the New Gods and Forever People started, Marvel released 25 books with Kirby work, and 10 sporting Kirby covers, that’s 3 DC books as compared to 25 Marvel books. In the next two months, Feb. and March 1971 when New Gods, Mister Miracle and Forever People hit the stands, Marvel countered with 13 books and 6 covers. This makes a total of 38 books and 16 covers for Marvel as opposed to 7 new books by DC; over a 5-to-1 ration just when the new books sought to make their most dramatic impact.

August and September of 1971, when DC introduced the new 25cent format, Kirby did 4 books for DC, while Marvel released 10 books with 6 covers; over twice the output, at a lower price, and usually with well known characters as opposed to new untested and untried characters.

An esteemed editor for Marvel told me that these policies were not aimed at Kirby, and I think I agree. Of course that editor was not there when these occurred, and I think it’s possible for an objective person to look at the data and come to the opposite conclusion. Either way, the negative results for Kirby’s new books were just a sad collateral damage inflicted by the larger comic industry wars.

Let’s look at the data for the complete run of the Fourth World books.

DCMarvel
October 1970 Jimmy Olsen #133 Astonishing Tales #2 New
Chamber Of Darkness #7
November 1970 NoneAmazing Adventures #3 New
Fear #1 w/cover
Nick Fury #16 w/cover
Two Gun Kid #95
Where Creatures Roam #3 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #6 w/cover
December 1970 Jimmy Olsen #134 Fantastic Four Annual #8
Kazar #2
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #29 w/cover
X-Men Annual #1 w/cover
X-Men #67
January 1971Jimmy Olsen #135Amazing Adventures #4 New
Avengers Annual #4
Captain America Annual #1
Fear #2 w/cover
Hulk Annual $3
Mighty Marvel Western #`12
Nick Fury #17 w/cover
Special Edition #1
Thor Annual #3
Tower Of Shadows #9
Where Creatures Roam #4 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #7 w/cover
March 1971 Jimmy Olsen #136
Mister Miracle #1
Fantastic Four #108 New
Creatures On The Loose #10
Fear #3 w/cover
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #30
My Love #10
Nick Fury #18 w/cover
Sgt. Fury #85 w/cover
Where Creatures Roam #5 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #8
April 1971Jimmy Olsen #137
Forever People #2
New Gods #2
Monsters On The Prowl #10
Rawhide Kid #86
Special Marvel Edition #2
X-Men #69
May 1971Mister Miracle #2Creatures On The Loose #11 w/cover
Mighty Marvel Western #13
Where Creatures Roam #6
Where Monsters Dwell #9 w/cover
June 1971Jimmy Olsen #138
Forever People #3
New Gods #3
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #31 w/cover
Monsters On The Prowl #11 w/cover
Western Gunfighters #5
X-Men #70 w/cover
July 1971 Jimmy Olsen #139
Mister Miracle #3
Fear #4 w/cover
Where Creatures Roam #7 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #10 w/cover
Creatures On The Loose #12 w/cover
Aug 1971Forever People #4
New Gods #4
Monster On The Prowl #12 w/cover
Our Love Story #12
X-Men #71 w/cover
September 1971Jimmy Olsen #141
Mister Miracle #4
Creatures On The Loose #13 w/cover
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #32 w/cover
Mighty Marvel Western #14
Rawhide Kid Special #1
Special Marvel Edition #3 w/cover
Where Creatures Roam #8 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #11
October 1971Jimmy Olsen #142
Forever People #5
New Gods #5
Monsters On The Prowl #13
Rawhide Kid #92
X-Men #72 w/cover
November 1971 Jimmy Olsen #143
Mister Miracle #5
Creatures On The Loose #14 w/cover
Fear #5 w/cover
Iron Man Annual #2
My Love #14
Two Gun Kid #101
Where Monsters Dwell #12
December 1971 Jimmy Olsen #144
Forever People #6
New Gods #6
Fantastic Four Annual #9 w/cover
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #33 w/cover
Monsters On The Prowl #14
Thor #194
Thor Annual #4 w/cover
January 1972Jimmy Olsen #145
Mister Miracle #6
Amazing Adventures #10
Avengers Annual #5 w/cover
Captain America Annual #2 w/cover
Creatures On The Loose #15
Hulk Annual #4
Where Monsters Dwell #13
February 1972Jimmy Olsen #146
Forever People #7
New Gods #7
Fear #6
Marvel Triple Action #1
Monster On The Prowl #15
Sgt Fury #95
Special Marvel Edition #4 w/cover
Mar 1972Jimmy Olsen #147
Mister Miracle #7
Beware #1
Creatures On The Loose #16
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #34
Mighty Marvel Western #16
Two Gun Kid #103
Where Monsters Dwell #14
April 1972 Jimmy Olsen #148
Forever People #8
New Gods #8
Monster On The Prowl #16
Fear #7
May 1972Mister Miracle #8Creatures On The Loose #17
Marvel Premier #2
Marvel Triple Action #2 w/cover
Where Monsters Dwell #15
June 1972Forever People #9
New Gods #9
Fear #8
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #35
Monster On The Prowl #17
Marvel Triple Action #3
Special Marvel Edition #5
July 1972Mister Miracle #9
Weird Mystery Tales #1
Forbidden Tales Of Dark Mansions
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #36
Western Gunfighters #10
Where Monsters Dwell #16
August 1972Forever People #10
New Gods #10
Fear #9
Marvel Triple Action #4
Monster On The Prowl #18
September 1972Mister Miracle #10
Demon #1
Weird Mystery Tales #2
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #37
Western Gunfighters #11
Creatures On The Loose #19
Marvel Super Heroes #32
October 1972Forever People #11
New Gods #11
Demon #2
Monsters On The Prowl #19
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #38
November 1972Mister Miracle #11
Demon #3
Weird Mystery Tales #3
Kamandi #1
Marvel’s Greatest Comics #39
Marvel’s Super Heroes #33
Western Gunfighters #12
Where Monsters Dwell #18

Not counting the last 7 issues of Mister Miracle, which veered away from the Fourth World format, we have 48 titles for DC against 106 titles for Marvel, over a 2 to 1 ratio for the life of the series.

In the months immediately prior to Kirby leaving Marvel, there were three reprint titles regularly spotlighting Kirby work; Two active (Where Creatures Roam, Where Monsters Dwell) and one on hiatus (Marvel’s Greatest Comics) Within four months of Kirby starting at DC, the number had swollen to seven. The previous three (Marvel’s Greatest Comics had restarted) , two new titles (Fear, Special Marvel Edition) and two old series downgraded to reprints (X-Men, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD) The timing coinciding with Kirby’s new releases does sound more than coincidental.

Within 6 months another two series would be retrofitted and highlight Kirby reprints. (Monsters On The Prowl, Creatures On The Loose) plus 7 super-hero Annuals (FF, Thor, Avengers, Hulk, X-Men, Iron Man, and Captain America) would feature Kirby reprints with 3 sporting Kirby covers.

To new customers, those known quantities must have been preferable to chancing an unknown one. It actually got worse later in Kirby’s stay at DC. In 1973, Marvel would unleash a third wave of reprint titles including such series as Marvel Double Feature, Marvel Spectacular, SHIELD, Tomb Of Darkness, Human Torch, and Journey Into Mystery, in addition to the continuing titles such as Marvel’s Greatest Comics, Marvel Super Heroes, Special Marvel Edition, and Mighty Marvel Western, all frequently featuring Kirby covers and stories. There was never a time in Kirby’s 5 year stay at DC, that Marvel wasn’t publishing more Kirby work. This was the problem that Dick Ayers had fought about so incessantly. With reprints, the artist was basically in competition with himself, without the benefit of getting paid for one half of the work.

Infinity man day glo
Infinity goes psychedelic

The fifth reason I feel the Fourth World books failed was that Kirby extended himself and his talent too far. His tale was told over four separate, yet interrelated books, forcing the buyer to spend too much. It was very hard for anyone to casually pick up an issue and understand who the characters were, where the plot was going and what was the central theme. The cast was so large and overwhelming with new characters jumping in and out at the oddest times. The books had a strange non-linear plotline, one never knew where one issue fit into the others. The idea of picking up a new book, enjoying it, and tracking down back issues was not yet plausible, so the readers needed a scorecard to keep track of what was going on previously. While in retrospect, these features highlight just how far ahead of the curve Jack was, at the time it must have been off-putting to the readers used to short self-contained stories with a small cast and no overarching interconnected plot. At a time when the casual reader was still the bread and butter of the industry, Kirby’s extended epic format was too unwieldy and sprawling. It was just too large an undertaking at that time.

Kirby’s talent as a writer has been a topic of much debate. One side claiming that Kirby’s dialogue was very weak. Some use the term stilted and awkward, saying that compared to Stan Lee’s words, Kirby’s were odd and out of place. Kirby did have his own voice, often bombastic, out of date, and in your face. Kirby lacked grace and subtlety. This continued over at Marvel where many complained bout Kirby’s voices in his later Marvel work. I personally don’t have a problem with Kirby’s dialogue—nobody says that aliens and super-heroes must sound like poetry and songbirds. My problem was that I often found Kirby’s plots and continuity lacking. He was always so full of ideas that he would include them without explanatory accompaniment and a sense of timing that made them more natural and less jarring. There was too much on the plate at times. The New Gods offered too much in too little time. Stan Lee often told Jack to spread out his ideas better and make the others more fully realized. The Black Racer is target #1 for me. A good idea perhaps that came at the wrong time.

It is interesting that later, when Kirby returned to the typical self contained, small cast adventure format with Kamandi, he would have that long running success that Infantino hoped for, but it was too little, too late. By then, Kirby felt betrayed and resentful, his epic had been cut short and while he enjoyed doing Kamandi, it was not where he had envisioned his career at DC to be.

So were they a failure? Yes and no; not everything that Kirby had hoped but more than Infantino ever dreamed. If one deems them a failure, don’t look for scapegoats or conspiracies; there aren’t any. It was a simple case of the stars being aligned against them: A new style series, at a struggling company during a shrinking market, overpowered by a shrewd competitor. It’s a wonder that the series lasted as long as it did. But as usual, Kirby left the company with a treasure trove of characters and concepts that are still in play today.

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Looking For The Awesome – 22. Allegory Of His Life

Previous21. Brand New World | Contents | Next23. Why Did The Fourth World Fail?

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

ALLEGORY OF HIS LIFE

But what was it all about?

“There came a time when the old gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil!” New Gods #1

Thus Jack Kirby launched his most personal opus. A wonderfully evocative phrase, full of both horror, and promise, for when something ends, something new must emerge.

But just what was Jack Kirby‘s new epic about? Kirby called it a novel about “ourselves”, a visualization of modern man seen through the milieu of the fantasy artist. Utilizing the symbolism and concepts of the super hero genre, to idealize, and entertain, yet at its heart, it was a history lesson, Jack Kirby’s history. Part biography, part subjective observation, but mostly, a sly treatise of 20th Century sociopolitical history as deep and true as any written by scholars steeped in academics and PHD’s.

“The New Gods was my own attempt to create a comic book epic, and this I did. I used four books in which to do it…I filled it with a cast and creations that were highly innovative for the period, and I tried to be as creative as I could. I used the young people of the times, the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”

In the manner of Swift, and Twain, Kirby took an art form founded in entertainment, and low expectation, and transformed it into something unique, “graphic allegory”, in fact, I call this “Allegory of his life”.

One has to wonder, knowing Kirby’s haphazard approach to telling stories if Jack had the wherewithal to scope out a story so connectedly. His m. o. was usually one story at a time and let it come to him organically as he sits at the board. I doubt if he purposefully sat down and outlined it straight through, obviously as we are told of how Black Racer came about, he didn’t. But I do think that with the time he had before DC gave him the go ahead that Jack had a basic cohesive structure to the tale. The latter historical type issues seem to have been conceived and executed to tie things into a neater package and the back history might have been subconscious and just a part of Jack’s psyche. But it’s too intertwined to be a coincidence.

“I’ve noticed that throughout the years, each civilization had its own historical facts, its own historical legends, and its own historical ways of storytelling. I began to ask myself the question of “What were the ingredients of our own storytelling- of the storytelling we see today all about us, in the various materials that we read?” With comics as my vehicle for telling a story, I began to set down the kind of thoughts that were common to the period in which I was raised. You’ll find that the elements are mixed, but they have validity and they have the potency of truth.”

The best allegories work on many levels, the big picture, the personal picture, and as entertainment.

So what do Kirby’s opening lines have to do with his life? Jacob Kurtzberg was born in a period marked by the end of “old gods” Gone were the Czars, the Archdukes, and Kaisers, left powerless were the Kings, and Emperors, whose legacy of absolute authority had stretched for centuries. The age of the feudal gods, lording over personal territories had for all intents and purposes ended. This was Kirby’s birthright.

On a more personal level, in 1970, Jack had just ended a period highlighted by the creation of a universe populated with Gods, and gods. What better way to show the break from his personal past to a new chapter than to literally “kill the old gods”? Few were the readers who didn’t “get” the irony in this audacious beginning. The splash page of New God’s #1 echoes a page Kirby did in the Tales of Asgard stories concerning Ragnarok—the end of the gods.

The next part of Kirby’s opening tells of a…”Final moment came with the fatal release if indescribable power—which tore the home of the old gods asunder—split it in great halves”

When World War 1 ended, the socio-political landscape had been turned asunder. And from the resulting chaos, the world split into two ever-conflicting political spheres, two ideological philosophies at odds with each other. Rule by the people vs. rule by the state. Democracy vs. the ‘isms; one side led by freely elected leaders, the other by the philosophical dictators of Fascism, Communism, Nazism, and Militarism.

Some might say that my description is simplistic, maybe even jingoistic, that the differences between the two sides is far more complicated and nuanced than I make it out. I agree, but this was Kirby’s viewpoint. I don’t think he would make those types of distinctions. His was a more simplistic nature, Nazis were bad, Americans were good. Commies were bad, though he might not be able to say exactly why. He knew of the gulags, he knew of the Berlin Wall, and he knew that they were anti-religious. He didn’t need much more to make up his mind.

Personally, Kirby’s life had always been divided into two camps. Have’s vs. have nots, swells v regular Joe’s, tall v. short, boss v worker, good v evil. Why should Kirby view the larger universe any differently?

Jack Kirby, in his most dramatic fashion boiled it down to its essential. “The fatal release of indescribable power….which tore the home of the old gods asunder…split it in great halves” “In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren…clean of all that had gone before” He then shows how the two new bodies evolved, one, New Genesis, into a world of light, and enlightenment. Orion calls it “a true place of peace!” where individuals are encouraged to fulfill their own destinies. The other, a demons pit called Apokolips, ruled by an iron fist, and the population, little more than worker drones in service to the state. Never has this concept been more visually powerful, than the contrast between the colorful utopia of New Genesis vis-à-vis the gray, barren, smoke belching pits of Apokolips.

“My conjecture- which is part of good storytelling, I think- still had to do with good and evil, and therefore I contrived an evil world with an evil family, and a good world with a good family.”

Did not World War 2 end in a sudden burst of light and energy, and the victors soon divide the spoils into 2 different worlds?

In Kirby’s personal life, isn’t this how Kirby described the latter years at Marvel where he was treated as one of the cogs in the corporate structure? The new owners who had no idea what he had done for the previous regime, treating him like any other artist in their service. Until in a sudden burst of energy, DC freed him from the drudgery. Didn’t he feel that his new position at DC afforded him a chance to be in control of his own creations and destiny, as compared to his time with Marvel where his creations were taken from him and controlled by the dictates of his corporate superiors? Though this may be overly dramatic, we do know that the loss of control of his characters was paramount among the reasons for Kirby leaving Marvel. Kirby’s view of Marvel had become an “us against them” situation. As an aside, unfortunately, DC was not to prove all that “free” where Kirby’s creations were concerned.

From this historical epilogue, Kirby now shows us the world of 1970,a modern world, where a warrior is sent to an unlikely planet to stop the spread of evil by the Deadly Darkseid. The planet Earth has been chosen as the “third world” upon which New Genesis and Apokolips would wage one of their skirmishes in a Cosmic cold war? In the real world, the West and East were locked in an indirect skirmish of their own, our soldiers sent to a small insignificant patch of land called Viet Nam, one in a long list of indirect battles between democracy and Communism known as the Cold War. Jack had jumped forward to a world well recognized by the readers, a battle raging not of our making, and we are helpless to end it.

Kirby, realizing he must first and foremost also tell a riveting adventure builds his suspense by hinting at what happened between the birth of these two great worlds and the cold war that exists today. By not telling it linearly, he allows all the participants little secrets and big secrets that push the tension and draw in the reader He hints at a prior conflict and some unholy maneuver that presents the parties from direct contact. When Kirby does get around to telling the story of Highfather’s and Darkseid’s rise to power, he fills in a history that was all too real for him and mankind in the Forties.

The prior war between New Genesis and Apokolips begins when a small raiding party from Apokolips, led by the Germanic Steppenwolf, attacks an unsuspecting New Genesis couple, killing the woman. We find that this attack was actually suggested by the more cunning Darkseid, in an effort to start a wider war. Did not World War 2 start when the forces of Germany attacked and captured several neighboring countries, all with the backing and connivance of the Soviet Union.

It turns out that Darkseid has actually planned the raid and the man thought killed survives. Izaya the warrior than sets his troops upon the soldiers of Steppenwolf and thus a great war is begun. This war goes back and forth as technology and counter technologies take their bloody toll. When the scientists of New Genesis create a”planet killer” bomb called the Impacter, Darkseid realizes that the continuance of the war is futile, so he asks for a truce. Izaya in horror over the destruction being caused flees into the wilderness until he comes across a great stone monolith. Izaya screams in defiance “If I am Izaya the Inheritor—what is my inheritance? And in a great blast from a fiery hand, the answer comes—The Source. Knowing further battle is futile, Izaya accepts Darkseid’s proposal of a truce.

Though not exact, the parallels between this and WW2 are easy to spot. The two sides battle to an ever increasing mutual destruction until the Allies create a planet killer of their own. After the destruction of Hiroshima, Japan sues for peace. In reality the atomic bomb did end the war with one side victorious, but history has shown that dropping the bomb was as much to signal the Soviet Union to cease aggression and hostilities as it was to defeat Japan. And in reality, the bomb only increased the Soviet will to control.

At Potsdam, the combined forces meet to carve up the remains of Europe. To settle differences between the feuding sides, a Pact is proposed where Germany would be cut up and divided between the nations. Each must give in a little to get something. Thus is achieved a shaky peace.

In Kirby’s tale, he simply changes the exchange of land into the more Biblical and literarily dramatic exchange of sons, but the result is the same; a cessation of hostilities and a promise to maintain their own secure areas. By compromising and allowing some to live under a despot so that some could live under the banner of freedom, the larger war was averted. But just as Kirby railed against Chamberlain’s acquiescence at Munich, Highfather knew that the Pact could never last. It is the nature of the despot to seek to expand their influence over the rest. It was just a matter of time before an attempt into the neutral territories would create tensions and open conflict result.

“Good and evil are always in contention, and each will forever try to cancel out the other. This lies behind the path we all tread. We live our lives out making the decisions that will clear up the dividing line between good and evil.”

This brings us back to the present day stories of the Fourth World where we see that the cold war between New Genesis and Apokolips has expanded into a neutral territory, the planet Earth. Darkseid had kidnapped some humans in the hope of finding the anti-life equation, and Orion of New Genesis is sent to stop him, and the fate of Earth is insignificant. Yet they do not face each other directly. Not unlike Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and other small countries caught in the philosophical war between the East and the West. One side makes a move and the other side must retaliate in an endless chess match cycle that eventually destroys the host country.

In an allegory, many times people are merely symbols of real people, events, places or concepts. This humanization gives them form and depth with which we can easily recognize and react in the manner that the author wishes us to.

“There’s got to be a variety of characters in order to make clear and evaluate your own social values. So I had my own cast.”

As was common at the time, almost any mention of a cruel dictator would raise the specter of Adolph Hitler, and Kirby’s tale was no different. Jack often spiced these stories with Nazi codewords and quotes. But Darkseid in my opinion wasn’t a Hitler. Steppenwolf was the standin for Hitler, and like Hitler died at the end of the middle war. Drakseid was much more philosophical and Machiavellian than Hitlers’ straightforward boorishness. Steppenwolf was the fist in the face, while Darkeid was the shiv in the back. He reminds me more of Joseph Stalin, and the network of Soviet duplicity, and it seems that Kirby’s references are more Soviet style despotism than Hitler’s nationalistic fervor. Hitler was trying to raise Germany, while Stalin’s evil was much more personal and ideological. Nowhere do we get the feeling that Darkseid cared one whit for Apokolips and its people, they were simply cattle for the slaughter in the service of Darkseid himself. He didn’t want land, or wealth, he wants control of the very thought process of his subjects, this strikes me as more in line with the way Kirby would view Communism. When Khrushchev said “we will bury you” he wasn’t talking militarily, he was talking from a rot emanating from our insides; the destruction not of our homes but our way of life and philosophy of freedom and independence. This is a big difference between Darkseid and Kirby’s other great megalomaniac Dr. Doom. Even Dr. Doom had a soft spot for his beloved Latveria.

“Darkseid is what we mean when we say “the powers that be”; not satanic, not merely the devil. He is what we mean when we say “them” but what we really mean is “us”. Darkseid is what happens when everybody is asleep. Darkseid catches you off guard; he isn’t reckless he is far from being a raving lunatic with his finger on the trigger. In fact, he is just the opposite. He is the perfect rational man that we put into power because we are either too lazy to pay attention or we’re too occupied to worry about such details.”

Though Jack did pepper his tales with Nazi allusions, such as comparing DeSaad’s Happyland camp to the Nazi concentration camps, the actual methods used were more similar to the mind breaking techniques used in Korea or the Soviet gulag system. The idea was to break the will and spirit more than the body.

In allegories it’s not always easy to pigeonhole every actor and point to his real life counterpart-either a person or a country or a concept. Darkseid is easy, we all recognize the bad guy and the role he plays, Kirby said think of him as “the dark side of the moon.” Good guys are sometimes more nuanced. Does Orion represent a specific country or person or concept? I don’t think so, he is clearly the hero, but he is an imperfect hero. He doesn’t represent the American way of life, his calling is more emotional than patriotic, though I do think Kirby saw America as an imperfect concept. Orion was a junkyard dog, complete with floppy ears and a snarl. He is a warrior born, not one forced by circumstance. He shares aspects with the East European freedom fighters, in that he came from a place of madness and wants to get out. His battles are internal, a rage boils in him and he can only control it thru a mechanical construct. His battle is a search for identity, to see just where he really fits in, the fight to reconcile his opposing natures without flying apart. He is one of Kirby’s more complicated characters, there are no easy answers. But his instincts are good and he knows right from wrong. Through the years many of Kirby’s heroes have been aspects of Kirby himself. Is Orion part Jack Kirby? the battler fighting to get out? Perhaps somewhat, but not so one can clearly say he is Kirby personified. Maybe he was Jack’s father.

“Orion is your old man. He was half monster and half good guy. How many scars does your old man come home with at the end of his day’s work? Orion is a reflection of that. A guy who was scarred, but wouldn’t show you.”

He does share inner rages with Jack, but from different sources. Perhaps Orion’s warrior face is Kirby trying to show the messiness of war. His way of letting people know that war can’t be prettied up and made palatable. As Robert E. Lee said “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”

“The key element of my story was Orion, who left his evil world to find his true roots, which were embedded in the planet of Highfather. “….Orion went to the place he thought he belonged, and he tried to find the people to whom he really meant something” “…I believe, in every person. There comes an inner explosion which gives us the strength of ten; and nobody is prepared for that-even Darkseid.”

Orion’s constant companion was Lightray; as brash, exuberant and optimistic as Orion was sullen and dour. Lightray was Kirby’s ode to unbridled enthusiasm and hope. He had an innocent and trusting spirit. His job was to show the other side to Orion and offer another choice away from Darkseid. Darkseid hated his cheerfulness and optimism. Lightray was the angel of our better nature Lincoln espoused.

“Lightray, of course is a light-hearted character, and enjoyed life; and we see people like that every day. They cause no harm, and they devise and make use of all the wonderful diversions that lighten our lives. What they can’t find for amusement, they will create for amusement. They will not live their lives in vain; they will try to enjoy life.”

Highfather is another interesting character. First seen as the warrior king Izaya, he makes a Biblical trek into the wilderness and returns the philosophical leader with a direct connection to the well of knowledge known as the Source. The graphics are straight out of Cecil B DeMille’s Ten Commandments. The black hair and beard now turned white and the long flowing robes and shepard’s staff of a flock leader- a Moses. The Source is shown as a flaming hand much like the one that wrote the commandments. He, more than any character, was Kirby’s vision of goodness. But he was not perfect, which reflects Kirby’s Jewish roots. The Jewish kings were always presented as good, but flawed.

“Highfather is our conception of a being who gives us our total goodness, and of course that being comes with many names, in many languages on our own earth. Highfather- the opposite of Darkseid–receives Orion, who is his own true son. Of course that heightens the situation and makes it ready for adventure.”

Does that make Highfather a rabbi? Perhaps to some extent, but I see him as more of a warrior king like David or Saul. He definitely draws from Kirby’s religious nature, but Highfather was not a weak, pacifistic Mahatma Ghandi type, no, he was more of a Jefferson, secure in the knowledge that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Highfather knew and understood war, and he didn’t flinch from his duties, and that was to send Orion into the dragons’ mouth.

“..but, as good as he is, Highfather is betrayed by his own overconfidence that peace is everlasting. Like Prime Minister Chamberlain. Highfather learns that wisdom and kindness are not always good positions to keep in the face of a mortal enemy. Highfather failed his own people because he could not conceive that Darkseid would go to war again. In his mind a pact is a pact, but to Darkseid, it is a means to accomplish an end.

I think if Highfather symbolizes any one thing, it is that man can rise above his barbarian/warrior persona and become unto a God, but it must be thru a rite of passage that leads him to faith and goodness; perhaps a little Franklin Roosevelt battling thru paralysis to become an inspirational leader. Only one person in the Fourth World saga actually had direct contact with the Source, while others, such as the evil Darkseid, and the faithless Metron were stopped from reaching the Source by a barrier. Is this Kirby’s way of saying that power and knowledge have limits and the next step can only be achieved through absolute faith? Is this not the most basic tenet of most religions? Unfortunately Highfather was never fleshed out by Kirby so he remains unfinished in my mind.

Into this dysfunctional family is thrown a fourth element, the son of Highfather given over to Darkseid to raise as his own. Scott Free is man’s eternal desire to be free. He has a love of freedom that no ideology can bend to its will. This is the power that would bring down the Berlin Wall piece by piece. This is the strength of will that all dictators know must be tamped down and destroyed if they are to hold power. His is the purity of consciousness that draws people to him, and transforms evil and doubt into purpose.

“Mister Miracle, the magician, became his own magic. He was the one Orion was traded for, and he would never be the kind of character Darkseid would ever consider an ally.”

Himon is another iconic creation; part liberator, part mentor, part revolutionary. As a liberator, he seems to mirror the brave religious underground of Central Europe who helped ferry people under the bridges and around the barb wire. He was the hope that springs from religion at its most basis level. And the fervor with which Darkseid’s troops track him remind me of the fear that faith can undo despots and tyranny. Kirby uses a similar setting when Wonderful Willik tells the lowlies that “they have cornered a worm among you.(Himon) “eating at your lives and spirit and meritorious work.” Note the connection between spirit and work and remember that Communists believed that man was fulfilled only thru work and that religion was an “opiate of the masses” that dulled their enthusiasm and destroyed free will. Kirby seemed to be reaching for a Judeo-Christian vibe in the Himon story. Himon is shown as being pacifistic in his response to attempts at executing him. He never physically fights back, he simply vanishes. When Himon takes Scott to his den the group image resembles the Last Supper of Christ, even to the point of having Kreetin (a great name) deny his allegiance to Himon- much like Peter of Christ- after Himon is captured and led away to be tried. . Is this a real intent of Kirby the Jew, or simply dramatic license? The mentor aspect is easier. Himon plays a large part in Scott Free’s life, he encourages the kids to blossom and seek their freedom, and it is Himon that shows them the path to hope. How similar in nature to how Jack Kirby described his mentor, Harry Slonaker.

“He thought that if he gave kids responsibility it would give them hope, and there was so little hope then.”. “We learned responsibility. For the first time it was in our own hands, and we learned how to deal with it.”

How similar to Himon’s last words to Scott Free. “If he leaves Apokolips, he will find the universe.” Revolutionary in that he taught the children of his coven that there was a different life available, but they would have to fight for it, and he taught them how to create the machinery needed for this fight, not of the warlord but of the mystic and dreamers as seen in Aurelie’s “mind-video” that allows her to dance and play. Himon says that “Auralie’s thoughts are beautiful! She creates beauty! Imagine doing this on a world like Apoklips. Himon knows that to defeat tyranny one must first free his or her own mind of evil ideas. John Lennon said it best “You tell me it’s the institution Well, you know, You better free you mind instead”

There is a cryptic side to Himon. Several times he bemoans the fact that he somehow created Darkseid, or at least the factors that led to his rise. “I fostered Darkseid’s power! I must be here at its end” was just one example. Kirby never showed a specific connection between the two so we can only speculate as to what he meant. I wonder if this was Kirby’s way of acknowledging that the factors that led to Communism were noble, and no one could have seen that it would be much worse than the rule of the Czars. The people who overthrew the Czar wanted freedom just as much as any other people. Was there a back story that would show that Darkseid’s family came to power when Himon and the people overthrew another evil dynasty? I don’t know.

Himon was also a wonderful foil to the cold calculating Metron, Even the physical differences where Himon is soft and cuddly vs. the icy Metron’s angular and rigid form. Metron was one of Kirby’s unemotional observer archetype, but he was more, he was science run amok. He was the fear that science was moving so fast that we could no longer control our human side. Metron was amoral- he cared not which side he was making weapons for, or what the consequences. Metron was based on the cold aloof Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project who once famously said; “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” To Metron the time to worry was after the barn door was opened. Yet Kirby was also aware that for humanity to grow, Metron’s knowledge was essential, so Highfather kept him close, and somewhat restrained. Eisenhower’s Military Industrial complex speech might be a good example of Kirby’s concern. Metron was also Jack Kirby’s unending search for answers; he always turned to Metron when highlighting the philosophical/spiritual context for the Fourth World. Robby Reed, on his essential blog “Dial B for Blog”-now at 600 posts– took this Metron as Kirby idea even further.

The Newsboy Legionnaires remind me of Jack the person, but the character who reminds me most of Jack the visionary artist is METRON of the New Gods. It might seem strange to say that — but think about it. Metron is a man who sits in a chair that can go anywhere in time and space. Isn’t that just like JACK KIRBY sitting at his drawing table, on his own private “mobius chair”?

The resemblance grows stronger if you know that Jack did a sort of prototype for Metron’s Mobius Chair in Alarming Tales #2, November 1957, in a story called “Donnegan’s Daffy Chair.” In this story, Donnegan is a janitor who borrows a “daffy” magical chair that takes him flying far beyond earth, and into outer space.

As you can see below, Donnegan is a dead ringer for young Jack Kirby, and his “daffy” chair comes complete with its own built-in mini drawing board! Metron should consider adding one to HIS chair. Or at least a seat belt.

So you see, Jack Kirby IS alot like Metron! When Jack sat on his chair, pencil in hand, he could travel anywhere and everywhere. And, as we all know, Jack Kirby not only “could” — Jack Kirby DID!

Wherever his characters went, Jack went there first in his imagination. He knew those people first. When he put them down, they had already lived, both in his imagination, AND in his own real life. Jack Kirby — THE TRUE ARTIST — used the medium of comic books to envision different periods of his life, creating new worlds each time he refined that vision.

Robby Reed’s favorite action figure

Glorious Godfrey is an enigma. We know he was based on both Billy Graham, and Arthur Godfrey. While Billy Graham was the great evangelical of the middle century, who wheedled his way into the very seats of power-a harbinger of the religious right. Godfrey was the most famous pitchman in America- the man who sold America everything from cigarettes, to shaving cream. A man trusted by the mothers of America because he had a pleasant manner and calm voice. But in reality he had a bad attitude and a penchant for firing on a short fuse. He was also accused of being anti-semitic, though it seems unfounded. Kirby had an innate fear of Christian leaders who sought political power. His view towards Christianity was similar to many elderly Jews. He loved the teachings and the philosophy that are the bedrock of Christ’s teachings, but he feared an organization that once it obtained financial and political power has been easily swayed by the current powers that be. A philosophy too easily swayed to fit into whatever mandate sought by the ruling party. Many Jews remembered how long it took for the Pope to speak out against Hitler, Mussolini, and the holocaust or how easy it was for Southern preachers to find arcane phrases in the Old Testament to buttress the rights of slave holders. Jack seemed to fear that a smooth talker with fanatical religious beliefs might come along and take control; a fear that echoes even today.

Terrible Turpin, is obvious – he is us. A common man who reaches a turning point when he says enough is enough. He is the collateral damage of wars between super powers. He is also the spirit of survival. He is the undying spirit of humanity, as much as Captain America or Sgt. York. In reality he is the fireman running upstairs as the tenants are running down the stairs; the cop on the beat who puts his life on the line everyday, or the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save his buddies. To many, Ben “Terrible” Turpin was Jack Kirby as everyman. It was Kirby who stood up to the cosmic mayhem, just as he did the Nazi’s. Bruce Timm, when animating the Fourth World in the Superman cartoons, spotlighted this idea.

TJKC: Was Ben Turpin based on Jack?

Bruce: Oh, definitely. Absolutely, it was based on Jack. That’s something DC Comics had been doing for a while anyway, using the stuff that Jack created: The Fourth World characters, Intergang, an all that stuff. They’ve really been introducing that stuff in the Superman comics recently. We thought that’s a natural; we love Jack’s stuff anyway. The Turpin character in the comics didn’t look anything like Jack but I decided it would be kind of fun, kind of a little throwaway tribute to Jack, to make the character look like Jack.

“Now no soldier in his right mind would face a battalion of Panzers (German tanks) alone; even one would be suicide, and I just said that like I myself had done it. Some people think I’m crazy, but I never did anything like that, but there were guys who did. You can read about them in history books, and that’s who Turpin is. But still, he is the essential character of all mankind, to stand up against all odds because nobody else would do that job. There’s always one who will, and when we run out of people like that, that’s when we’re all going to be in trouble.”

I should mention Superman, though not a Jack Kirby creation, Jack does involve him into the Fourth World aura. To Jack Superman was not an invulnerable do-gooder standing outside the world looking in. Superman had great powers but to Jack they made him lonely, isolated and questioning as to his rightful place in society. Jack gave him a depth no other artist/writer managed. When asked about his Superman Jack answered.

“The bottom line involves choices.  Neither gods nor humans have ever stood calmly in a minefield forever.  Good or evil, they are bound to choose.  And when they do, you will see the truth of all that motivates us.  As a thinking being, you have the obligation to choose.  If the fate of all mankind were in your hands, what would your decision be? “As a writer and an artist, I’ve drawn my answer.”

I hesitate to mention the Black Racer, but I guess I must. The hesitancy is because I have never figured out what role, what symbolism or what exactly Jack was getting at. Obviously he represents death but what aspect. In other mythical tales death played a role in separating heroes from the rest. Hela took the heroes to Valhalla while sending the rest to Hades. Judeo/Christian myths are similar with a separate heaven and hell. But Jack never shows us any reward in his tales for a valiant and glorious life, or punishment in the hereafter for the evil. Death was as random as it seems in real life. Perhaps Jack was becoming existential in his later years. His battle scenes remind me of a lyric from the Broadway Show “Civil War”.

”And the heroes and the cowards look the same when they have fallen by the gun”.

But I don’t see Jack as existential, he was an optimist, The use of a paraplegic Viet Nam Veteran as the personification of death makes me think that Black Racer was his reaction to seeing the constant rain of dying youth on our TV’s at news hour. The few times we see the Racer offers no clues as to his purpose in the tapestry. He is intriguing but I think I may agree with Mark Evanier when he told Jack that it was a good concept, but probably not at this time. Of course Kirby had his own reasons, and I’m sorry I can’t divine this one; it’s probably a good one. His costume needs to go; a Black skier in medieval armor is too much even for me.

Several players seemed to be fevered images of real people from Kirby’s life. Funky Flashman and House Roy were obvious spoofs of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, and their evil doing was hucksterism in the service of Darkseid. While some, their natures were revealed just by their names: DeSaad, Vermin Vundabar, the Justifiers, Beautiful Dreamer, Simyan and Mokkari.

From this point on it seems that the stories were observations and morality plays based on Kirby’s response to world events and social currents of change swirling around him. In the very first Jimmy Olsen story Kirby shows us a mysterious Wild Area populated by long haired mystics, and motorcycle thugs, and a wild psychedelic underground government research center conducting crazy experiments. Is this not Kirby responding to the hippies, and counter culture, and the backyard motorcyclists who bothered him incessantly and the scientific research that was changing the landscape, some for the good and sometimes not.

Kirby spends a lot of time detailing the differences in the educational facilities of both New Genesis and Apokolips. New Genesis children are shown outside in a casual almost Platonic setup with flowers and birds and a happy exchange of ideas, while those on Apokolips are shown huddled in the clutches of Granny Goodness, a sadistic warden beating the children into strict obedience and indoctrination into the ways of Darkseid. Many are the stories of the time showing experimental open classes in enlightened US schools as compared to the harsh, Soviet model where children were taken from their parents and trained for specific tasks, and indoctrinated into Communist philosophy. Kirby wasn’t always subtle, his rendition was much more graphic and terrifying, but no less obvious to its template. It should be noted that New Genesis seems more of a hippy flower power commune than a real world cityscape. Perhaps Jack bought into the love, peace and happiness claptrap somewhat. Apokolips for its template think more of the coal pits and slag heaps torn into the side of the West Virginia mountains combined with huge burn pits belching smoke and brimstone into the smog filled Ukrainian rubble.

The control of the media and by its nature the access to knowledge also gets the full Kirby treatment. The first of Darkseid’s fifth columnists was Morgan Edge, who has taken over the Daily Planet and controlled the news network. Several attempts at mind control and Manchurian Candidate style stories appear, only to be defeated by New Genesis’ agents. Kirby even takes on the right wing religious ascension by the likes of Billy Graham and right wing hucksters with characters like Glorious Godfrey and Funky Flashman. The Funky story is also a not so subtle jab at Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Instances where Jack threw in personal swipes were few but obvious.

Perhaps in response to Israel promoting the role of women in their military, Jack introduced a fighting squad of “female furies”. Led by Kirby’s most intimidating female character Big Barda, an example of East German style chemically induced Olympic athlete. Originally a fighting force for Darkseid, they switched sides and joined Mister Miracle in his battles against Darkseid’s minions. With the likes of dominating Lashina and lunatic Mad Harriet they were as nasty and as formidable as any Kirby military group ever seen. It’s a close call whether it was safer to be a friend or an adversary of this group. They bickered more that the Thing or Torch ever did. Big Barda was Nick Fury in drag, with a body by Jayne Mansfield, a face modeled after songbird Lainie Kazan, and a disposition like Alexander Karelin, she was heads and shoulders above any fighting female drawn by Jack. She was the Goddess Sif, on steroids. Amazingly she didn’t smoke a cigar. Her protectiveness of Scott Free was eerily reminiscent of Roz and her Jackson.

The real female furies of Israel

“Big Barda is the female star of the story, and a girl who is both vital and brave, and has everything we might want to find in the perfect female. I tried to create a female vision of this sort, and I think I found it in Big Barda.”

The antiwar movement received Jack’s attention, not only with the pacifistic Forever People, but in one of Kirby’s best stories. In New Gods #6 entitled the Glory Boat he presents a family broken apart because of the inability of a hawkish father and a peacenik son to unite. Thrown into an Apokoliptian nightmare, the son proves his courage and the father faces his fears in a poignant story faced by many American families with sons hiding in Canada, and thrown in jail for refusing induction into the military. Kirby fought this same battle.

Neal tells of Kirby’s feelings on the Viet Nam war:

“You’d classify him (Jack) as a liberal Democrat. During Vietnam he was very much against the whole thing; right from the start. It was no mystery to anyone in the family how he felt about it. I had some friends over, and we were all watching the draft lottery on TV. He told me. “Listen, if you draw a low number, and want to finish school in Canada we’ll support you 100%.” He didn’t want me to go at all.”

Terrible Turpin aka Jack Kirby – Playing with matches

The sadness and bravery of freedom fighters around the world bent on defying both East and West gets its due in Kirby’s best tale, “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin” from New Gods #8. It tells of a Metropolis cop who finally can’t take anymore of these two super powered foes battling it out in his town, leaving death and destruction behind them. He says enough is enough and wades in to stop the fight barehanded. Despite his being human and the enemy super powered he holds his own until the battle ends. with Turpin looking much less for wear. His bravery is never maudlin or phony, his rage is understandable and his action laudatory. For once the super powered beings realize that their fight impacts others and not in a good way. Nothing reminds me of this story as much as the photo of a lone Czech patriot standing up to a Soviet tank in the middle of a square. Is there anything more powerful than one person standing up and saying “no more”? The bracketing scenes of Orion spilling his guts to Lightray are gut wrenching and provocative.

The country was burning over a fight for equality, and Kirby had to address it head on.

The East would point to the race problem in America whenever the hypocritical West would belittle the East for the living conditions of its people. In “The Bug” from New Gods #9 Kirby presents a view of New Genesis’ racist underbelly. While the elites live on a beautiful floating city high above the planet, a lowly group of scavengers and worker bees live on the surface. They are hated by the swells in the sky. They live off the refuse from above and one of them yearns to be free and better himself. It is hard to read of Orion and other New Genesians spitting out their hatred for this race, and call for an ethnic cleansing, but Kirby needed to show that no one is 100% good or evil. New Genesis was a planet just like ours populated with people who were super in power but capable of smallness in their hearts. This may even be a nod to the internment of the American Japanese population during World War 2 (including his letterer extraordinaire Ben Oda) and the easy bigotry shown during our fight to free other people bent and broken by prejudice and bigotry. Surely Kirby’s pride as a Jew helped him out during his darkest hours in Europe.

The art ranks right at the top of Kirby’s long career. He used the whole canvas, the backgrounds and the location scenes were astonishingly dazzling. His machinery, especially in Mister Miracle was awesome to behold. His characters had mass, and depth. There doesn’t seem to be any throw-away panels, every inch is used to tell the story. Jack took a new interest in fashions, where all too often during his Marvel days Kirby would fall back on drawing fashions from the Forties, Kirby seems determined to keep these series topical and up to date. When he does do a throw back, such as Terrible Turpin, and his derby, it seems like a perfect choice for the old-school personality of the bulldog policeman. His characters had the ability to shock you, yet still remain true to their nature. In the final issue of New Gods, while Kalibak and Orion are fighting, we see Darkseid watching from afar. When he realizes that DeSaad has unfairly assisted Kalibak, Darkseid confronts him and in his anger wishes DeSaad out of existence. Is this Paternal feelings or just a semblance of fair play from deep within his evil bowels, we really don’t know. Perhaps it is simply that Darkseid can’t abide someone else playing god. That is reserved for Darkseid alone. Whatever the reason, it shows another side to his evil. Kirby explained that this new found depth came about because the story propelled him to new heights. Kirby’s background characters and figures took on greater importance and energy.

“In the New Gods, (short hand for all the titles) I became aware of the amount of detail that was important in telling the story. By detail, I mean environmental detail, background detail, the crowds, the buildings, the feeling for the times. In doing so, I found my drawings tightening. I found my drawings becoming more illustrative and better than I’d ever done them before. I have the New Gods to thank for that.”

The one overarching problem with talking about the Fourth World is that Kirby never had a chance to finish it. The Hunger Dogs, done much later seems too slapdash and cartoony to me to be of real help. It doesn’t even deal with Scott Free, and Metron and the Forever People and the fate of so many others. Could Kirby have worked out the anti-climatic fall of Communism of the Soviet Union to fit his need for a climatic ending for an adventure tale? Could he envision Darkseid acknowledging defeat due to failure of his philosophical convictions? Would Intergang, and the other thugs go underground like the Russian mafia? This is of course a weakness in making people symbols of philosophies; an individual can easily adapt and accept change, ideologies can’t.

It’s really hard to overstate the role that the immediate times played on the tapestry that Kirby was weaving. The social upheaval and the scientific changes occurring almost daily was the fodder that kept Kirby’s epic so enjoyable. It was like we were looking into some psychedelic mirror that turned and twisted the world and then broke into a thousand different shards reflecting aspects back at us. The final words on this should probably be Jack’s.

“I wouldn’t say my drawings were illustrations of any kind, but they were great comic drawings, and they fulfilled the kind of goal I was reaching for in all my years of doing comics. In doing Captain America, I’d concentrate on doing a few figures, and tell the story correctly. The figures were active; they bounced all over the page, but they needed very little background. In telling the story of the New Gods, I told an entire story. I gave the entire picture of the events which transpired. In that way, I feel I have made a giant step in dealing with my own creative ability, my own feelings for people, and my own vision of the future…. So I consider this a great accomplishment, in the field itself. It was a story that was fully rounded, with people, with backgrounds and with the satisfaction of innovation.”

“To bring this to a conclusion, I’d like to say that I felt the New Gods were our gods. They were not the gods of the medieval ages; not the Greek gods; nor the gods that came before them. The New Gods were the kind of people that made our own millennium. We live in the age of the New Gods, and the New Gods are still developing. So I felt they represented you and I, and the people we know; the people of our time. They represented the 1970’s and they’ll probably go on from there.”

I lied; the final word will be by Willie Shakespeare, who said a few words about us and gods. “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in
faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action
how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!”

Jack Kirby gave us our Gods.

But interpretation is not for me alone. Artist James Romberger wrote some words on the New Gods and its follow-up stories.

Undiscovered Particles

by James Romberger

from the Jack Kirby Quarterly #15, 2008

A young mind is blown, from Forever People #2

The Fourth World is Jack Kirby’s grand concept, the project in which he invested the prime of his skills as well as his highest hopes and ambitions. Kirby’s saga debuted in 1970. He hit the ground running; within a few issues his writing became more confident and he began to draw with unmatched clarity, grace and power, brought into focus by Mike Royer’s exemplary inking. Kirby put forth a very thoughtful and humane writing that helped form many of his reader’s views of the world. In this way he transcended the entertainment realm of comics to create something much more meaningful.

He filtered his own experiences with violence into a philosophy that extended across his epic, from Orion’s attempts to overcome his aggressive nature and the examination of the principles of conscientious objection in “The Glory Boat,” to Mr. Miracle and Big Barda’s rejection of their military programming. In Kirby’s comics pathos is contrasted with irony to create relief, a classical formula he used effectively. The best stories of the 4th World read as literature.

For a variety of reasons, the 4th World was cancelled by DC before the end of 1972. The loss of his developing masterpiece as he was just reaching a career peak of performance hit Kirby like a hammer blow, according to those close to him. He went on to create other significant works, but rarely again touched the glorious synthesis of story and art seen in the best of the New Gods. DC owns the characters and concepts and uses them in combination with their other corporate properties. In 1982 DC’s Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz offered Kirby creator credit and a percentage of royalties for the Fourth World for redesigning it for use in the Super Powers TV cartoons and toys, a gesture that meant a good deal to Kirby and his wife Roz. DC also offered him twenty-three pages to write and draw a conclusion to his story in the final issue of reprints of his original New Gods comics. Within the limitations he was given, Kirby produced one of his last great stories, “On the Road to Armagetto”. Unfortunately, it was rejected by DC. Kirby amended the story, and it was inked and lettered by Mike Royer. Its pages were later distributed in altered form throughout Kirby’s 1985 graphic novel, Hunger Dogs. Sadly, with DC’s recent reprinting of Hunger Dogs in their 4th World Omnibus Volume 4, that story remains unavailable to be read as he intended.

For his conclusion, Kirby chose to focus on something meaningful that was possible to bring to succinct resolution. One of the most significant themes present in Kirby’s complex, interwoven plotting in the 4th World is that he absorbed the aspirations of the psychedelic movement, and recast it in his own image. In 1970 Kirby was aware that a key demographic for his work was the college-age kids that had embraced his Marvel work. He created characters for DC that were geared to and reflected that market. The first of Kirby’s new comics completed on his board was The Forever People #1. The dreams of the flower children had been occluded by Charlie Manson and Altamont the year before but you couldn’t tell from the optimism Kirby invested in his super-freaks.

The Forever People is about a small unit of young New Gods who join their planet’s war, but deal with crises using technology, compassion and their individual skills. The Forever People as superheroes are an idealized version of what hippies should be: calm, gentle and intelligent. In cases where they are unable to cope, they join to form the Infinity Man, an entity of indeterminate power and personality, however, this device was diminished as Kirby progressed. Simultaneously, Kirby took over a staid DC title, Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. Square Jimmy suddenly seemed truly young, hurtling at breakneck speed into Kirby’s ominous interzone of psycho-cosmic warfare. Kirby came up with many inventive ideas from the world around him, distilled from current events, hit films, and scientific magazines. He explored the then-nascent science of genetics with his “DNA Project,” a U.S. Government operation that could endlessly generate the types of imaginative Jimmy mutations the title was notorious for, and also created “The Hairies,” a commune of technologically advanced “DNAlien” clone hippies who travel a tunnel complex called the “Zoomway,” in a dragon-decorated missile carrier known as “The Mountain of Judgment.”

The Hairies’ Mountain of Judgement, 1970

Kirby’s hippie characters may have been inspired by the real-life pioneering exponents of psychedelia, the Merry Pranksters. This may be supported by the fact that the Pranksters were, like the Hairies, the result of a Government experiment. Prankster founders Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest), Ken Babbs, and Stewart Brand (later editor of the Whole Earth Catalog) all attended Stamford University in the late 1950s and there participated in tests of LSD by MK-ULTRA, a long-running mind-control program overseen by scientists under the wing of the CIA. Kesey and his fellow subjects were so impressed by their experiences on acid that they became advocate distributors of the drug and facilitated the rapid spread of psychedelic culture. They believed that LSD could change the world. They threw the earliest public Acid Test parties in San Francisco in collaboration with the Grateful Dead. The Pranksters’ acid-proselytizing tour of America on their psychedelic bus “Further” was reported by Tom Wolfe in stream-of-consciousness style in his famed 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Kirby’s Thor on Acid Test flyer, and the Merry Prankster’s bus Further, 1966

Kirby’s work figures into the Prankster’s saga: Wolfe writes that Kesey is frequently consumed in reading Marvel Comics, and a Kirby drawing of Thor is prominent in a Prankster poster for an 1965 Acid Test. Kirby is one of the most important psychedelic artists of that era. It has rarely been suggested that Kirby took LSD himself, but his combinations of solid spatial and figurative composition with abstract technorganic design in the eidetic pageantry of comics like Thor bear up under scrutiny magnificently whilst tripping. Kirby’s assistant at the time, Steve Sherman, laughingly said that Jack’s young staff “gave him lots of pot” (The Jack Kirby Collector #6). When interviewed, Kirby cautioned about drug experimentation: “I believe that any sort of stimulant or irritant used for any sort of motivation…it’s kind of a wild thing without guidelines…I won’t hang anyone up on a gallows who uses drugs, but I won’t respect them, either” (TJKC #42). For his family-friendly DC comics, Kirby’s cosmic consciousness catalyst is not LSD but the Mother Box, a technological link to “the ultimate mystery, The Source” that must be built, and its wisdom earned, by its bearer. Mind-expanding effects are also exhibited by Forever People member Serafin’s Cosmic Cartridges, all of which have properties relating to “all there is.”

The Forever People’s driver is Big Bear, who resembles aspects of both Kesey and Neal Cassady, the Beat legend who joined the Pranksters as navigator. Another key Prankster figure, Cassady’s friend Carolyn Adams, known as “Mountain Girl,” has a 4th World equivalent in the Daisy May-outfitted Beautiful Dreamer. The magic bus “Further” can be seen reflected in The Mountain of Judgment of the nomadic Hairies. Jimmy Olsen witnesses several manifestations of the Acid Test music-lightshow multimedia events in the Hairies’ dance concerts and projections, one of which (Jimmy Olsen #134, p.12) incorporates a Kirby collage cut from photos of Jimi Hendrix that appeared in Life magazine (issue dated 10/03/1969). The Hairies are allied with the motorcycle gang the Outsiders, who might have reflected the Prankster’s brief involvement with the Hell’s Angels, but were also acknowledged by Jack as referencing the bikers who frequently ripped up the canyon below the Kirbys’ California home. In the end, Kirby’s characters are melds of many different sources, and even if Kesey’s crew were not a direct inspiration, Kirby’s origin for the Hairies mirrors the Pranksters’ covert genesis.

Kirby’s original series deliberately left many of the boundaries between his heroes and villains ambiguous. The Pact that secured the truce between Apokolips and New Genesis that would be broken by Scott Free and precipitate the events in Kirby’s storyline is itself a cold business: Highfather traded sons with Darkseid. Family values are strangely inversed in the 4th World. All along, Darkseid seems very concerned with the fate of his son, Orion, but strangely, Highfather seems disinterested in the concerns of his progeny, Scott Free aka Mister Miracle, who is raised in the hellish orphanage on Apokolips. The youngest of the New Gods is Esak; he appears to be at most nine years old. He does not seem to have parents, and is allowed to roam space and time as apprentice to the amoral scientist Metron in New Gods #4. In one of his other few appearances in the original comics in FP #7, Esak must beseech Highfather to save the Forever People; it is one of Jack’s gentlest scenes.

The clear view of Esak, from Forever People #7

But, Darkseid allows the Forever People to escape repeatedly, saying, “Greatness does not come from killing the young” (FP #8). When the hammer came, Kirby exiled the Forever People to a distant, verdant world and left the seemingly inevitable final battle between Darkseid and Orion hanging. Shorn of Jack’s fire, Mister Miracle limped to his belated wedding with Big Barda, presided over by a noncommittal Highfather. There was no acknowledgement of unresolved traumas such as Scott Free’s sacrifice for the sake of peace. Kirby was already elsewhere.

When in 1983 Jack was asked by DC to complete his saga in one chapter, he looked at what he had done more than a decade before and, out of all possibilities, chose the theme of the betrayal of ideals to close out his saga. The overriding theme that he saw in the New Gods tapestry is that he had hoped and believed that the young could and would tackle the evils of their day with ingenuity and compassion. As the promise of the sixties faded, these aspirations were not borne out. He watched expanded consciousness give way to drug addiction, sexual and racial equality slow in coming, wars beget more wars, the environment steadily worsen because of individual and corporate greed and exponential population growth. America was sliding through the Reagan Years. Jack’s initial, thoughtful response was a short allegory that left the mystery of his unfinished epic intact, but that condemned, with little equivocation, the failure of the generation in whom he had invested his hope.

Kirby did some of his best late-period art for “On the Road to Armagetto.” By this time Jack no longer drew supple, idealized figures; his characters seem compressed, reflecting his own physical aging, but for all that his drawing is no less vigorous. Despite the cartooniness Jack was veering towards, due in part to his most recent animation design efforts, there is none of Kirby’s usual humor in this piece. It’s dead serious. Kirby’s blackspotting becomes abstract and patterned, and the open outside borders create a vignette effect, as if the entire story is a nightmare. And truly, as much is hidden as is revealed in this oddly cinematic fever dream. In Jack’s finale, the enraged Orion is only seen in flashes as he infiltrates Apokolips’ capital Armagetto and incites the slum-dwelling Lowlies to revolution.

Darkseid watches his WMD experiments, postures, mugs, and spars with Himon. An obviously significant but out-of-panel character responsible for Micro-Mark nano-bombs is revealed to be a horribly disfigured, swollen-headed Esak. Metron has deserted the child for years to study in solitude. After an accident mutilates the boy, he is thoroughly corrupted and goes over to work for Darkseid. As the mob approaches, Darkseid turns tail and escapes, leaving Esak to face the killing machine Orion. Esak attempts to murder Orion’s posse, then testifies to his misfortunes

The Lowlies rise, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982

Esak’s fall, from On the Road to Armagetto, 1982

The story Kirby originally submitted ended with the splash on page 23 of Orion on top of a pile of corpses, shooting the off-image Esak. This is Jack’s “holocaust borne on flowers”, his answer to the “nature vs. nurture” questions he had brought up with his DNA Project and the Pact. Orion’s upbringing is completely negated by his Apokoliptic genetic baggage. The flower children do not save the world, perhaps because New Genesis doesn’t care about or keep track of its children. This was intended to be Jack’s final word, then: a fatalistic burst of ultraviolence more akin to Sam Peckinpah and the Druillet books that he admired.

No doubt Kirby felt it was his prerogative to finish his epic in his own way. Over a long career he had proved time and time again that his ideas and instincts were sound. His problems occurred when he was being second-guessed. Still, after DC rejected the story, a second denial of his New Gods, Kirby persevered. The “piece of the action for redesign” deal DC gave him was unprecedented, so he did what he could to satisfy their wishes. The story mutated into an intro to Hunger Dogs. He added two moving pages wherein Orion regains his senses and absolves Esak, mitigating the darkness somewhat. The “child, fallen upon cruel days” grew away from the Source, but is forgiven. Orion witnesses the Source do a cosmetic makeover of Esak’s ravaged husk, saying, “Judge him as he was, not as he became.”

On one level Kirby apparently came to grips with his disappointment with the Hippie generation, on another, with the interruption of his opus. On yet another level he is still defiant, in effect disclaiming to the reader all of the presumptions made on his characters by others, and perhaps even what was to follow in the adulterated Hunger Dogs. The final printed graphic novel has its own merits, but reflects much interference with Kirby’s creative process. “On the Road to Armagetto” is Jack Kirby’s dark codetta to the New Gods, an apotheosis of unending conflict.”

The end

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Looking For The Awesome – 21. Brand New World

Previous20. Bullpen? Bullshit!! | Contents | Next22. Allegory Of His Life

We’re honored to be able to publish Stan Taylor’s Kirby biography here in the state he sent it to us, with only the slightest bit of editing. – Rand Hoppe

BRAND NEW WORLD

By 1970, thousands of Americans were actively protesting the Vietnam War. There were numerous reasons why these protests took place. Some of the prominent ones included revelations that former President Lyndon Baines Johnson had misled the American people about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam in late 1964. The ending of college deferments, which previously had exempted most college students from the draft and service in Vietnam, further contributed to the protests. On April 30, 1970 President Nixon announced that the war was spreading into Cambodia, a neighbor of Viet Nam. America erupted. Colleges across the country staged a strike and shut down campuses, streets, traffic and commerce. On May 5, a stunned nation watched in horror as a small, and fearful band of National Guardsmen opened fire on a large group of boisterous and threatening group of coeds at Kent State University. For 13 seconds they fired round after round, and when the smoke cleared, four young Americans lay dead, dozens wounded and a nation staggered. Ten days later two more Americans were killed at Jackson State.

Moment of horror

On April 10, 1970, the music, and counter cultural world was staggered when Paul McCartney announced that after a yearlong period of dissension he was leaving the Beatles due to undisclosed “personal, business and musical differences.” The greatest songwriting team in history had come to an end. John was mad because he wanted to announce the split first, but had been talked out of it. His reaction to Paul’s announcement was “Shit, Paul’s a bloody f**king great PR man—maybe the best ever–to tie it into his own album’s release.” I think Jack might disagree with John as he considered Stan Lee the best PR man ever.

All good things must end – The new team

And like a rifle shot to the gut, Kirby’s defection likewise staggered the collected comic universe. Fanzines and comic conventions were ablaze with speculation as to Marvel’s continued success without Kirby. The comic creating team that dominated the Sixties had parted in discord. Kirby’s move to Los Angeles took awhile to settle out. After initially landing south in the land of Mickey Mouse, Jack soon moved north of the city to a place on Sapra Rd. The worst problem was the house was high on a hill, and below the house was an open area where motorcyclists practiced their sport. Despite numerous complaints from the hard-pressed Kirby’s, the owner refused to stop the noise. In his own way Kirby worked these motorcyclists into his tableau. The cycle riding Outsiders of the Wild Area were based on his abusive neighbors.

Jack and Roz finally moved pot, pans and drawing table to a new home in Thousand Oaks on Lynn Rd, high on the hills overlooking the valley to one side and the ocean on the other. Kirby loved the swimming pool. Despite the distance, fans and assorted kooks found their way to spend time with their king. Lisa would joke that “if Charles Manson came calling, Jack would let him in.” It was at this house that Jack, Mark, Steve, Neal, and Mike would hatch their schemes and act out their wild stories.

New Gods prototypes – New Gods #1

John Romita worried about the continuation of Marvel Comics. He thought Marvel might go under sans Kirby. “Kirby was doing more than artwork: he was bringing all sorts of things to the table.  He was bringing characters, plots and inspiration to Stan.  He was making Stan ten times a better writer and there’s no way to limit what you could give a guy like Jack.  I would have given him whatever he wanted, but businessmen don’t see things that way.” Unknown at the time, Jack asked John Romita to join him at DC. John pondered the question, but when he asked his wife, she told him that if he went, he would always be in the shadow of Jack Kirby. John chose to remain with Stan Lee and not surprisingly was always viewed as Stan Lee’s lackey. John Buscema was more direct; “I’ll never forget when I walked into Stan’s office and heard that Jack left. I thought they were going to close up! (laughter) As far as I was concerned, Jack was the backbone of Marvel. John offered up another amazing anecdote of Kirby; “Well, Jack Kirby was very fast. Martin Goodman was upset that Jack Kirby was making so much money. He felt, “Kirby’s turning out so much work, let’s cut his rate.” That’s when Jack left Marvel and went over to DC.” Sounds like the logic of a bean counter.

The falling sales figures were scaring Martin Goodman. None of the new titles were catching on. Roy Thomas told Stan that he had received mail from readers asking for a sword and sorcery genre book. Nothing else was selling so Stan told Roy to write up a proposal for Martin Goodman to read. First, in the back of a horror title they threw in a sword and sorcery trial story. The story was written by Thomas and drawn by Barry Smith. Smith had returned to England due to his visa problem. Yet Marvel still sent him scripts to keep active. Goodman gave Thomas the ok on a new series and told him to get the rights to a property as cheaply as possible. After being disappointed with several properties, the rights to Robert Howard’s Conan practically fell into his lap. Goodman’s fear of the new title made it so that Thomas could not have his first choice of artists due to their high page rate. Thomas had wanted John Buscema, but ended up getting Barry Smith due to his being at the bottom of the page rate scale. Barry was put right to work on the new title. Coincidently, the first issue hit the stands the same month as Jack Kirby’s new titles at DC. Despite some poor initial sales, they stuck with it until it became Marvel’s sole success story of the early 1970’s. Its success did nothing to stem the loss from the other titles. Marvel continued down the hole of failure.

Jack Kirby roots to neo-romantic classicism – Barry became Windsor-Smith

Barry Smith was still living in Great Britain; working on his papers to return to the U.S. He found out about Kirby leaving Marvel from his friend Roy Thomas. It began; “There’s no way to say this but straight: Jack Kirby has left Marvel.” “Jack’s departure was cataclysmic to Stan and Marvel as a publishing entity. It affected me in no way whatsoever, I just wished him well. As to being treated fairly by the company that he co created, I’m not privy to the internal goings on that existed between Jack and Marvel management, but I would hazard a guess that if Jack was less of a romantic and more of a business man, he could have had anything he wanted from Marvel at the time that Jack felt the urge to split the “House of Ideas”. It’s a pretty good shot that Jack could have written his own ticket. But then again, if Kirby had more of a head for business, he probably wouldn’t have been the genius artist we have all benefited from. There’s a tragedy of some considerable proportion right there, Know what I mean?”

The failure in this case was not Kirby’s lack of business sense, in fact, with the facts we have Kirby made all the right moves. He used the little leverage he had and came out with the better contract. The failure was Marvels. The new management and some of the old failed to realize the real set-up and chose Stan Lee as architect rather than who many would consider the actual architect—Jack Kirby. They ended up with a new leader who could provide nothing to make a company grow, while Kirby continued his history of providing his employer with salable concepts. I have had people tell me that Marvel managed just fine after Kirby left. All I can say s that they should look at the sales charts and realize that for the next 8 years Marvel would flail about approaching bankruptcy. While the ten years earlier, while Kirby was there, the sales were a consistent rise to prominence.

Jack was busy organizing his characters and concepts for his new series. His first move was to contact Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman. After explaining that he was moving to DC where he would be in charge of a series of comics and he said he wanted them to be his assistants. They quickly agreed though they had no idea of how they could assist Kirby–but they certainly wanted to be a part of it. They also hoped their friend Mike Royer could be a part of Kirby’s new venture. Mike Royer remembers; “A few hours later I got a call from Jack saying he’d just landed at LAX and he wanted me to know that he had switched to DC, and that he wanted me to ink the books but they had to control them back East. So he couldn’t designate who he wanted to ink for him.”

Wally Wood learned of Kirby’s defection and hurriedly went to Carmine. He asked if he could be the new inker but DC stuck by their guns and stayed with Vince Colletta.

Alan Kupperberg was a production man in DC’s studio when Woody came to see Carmine. “When word first ricocheted around the business that Jack Kirby had decamped for DC Comics in 1970, Woody contacted DC publisher Carmine Infantino and virtually begged for the Kirby assignment. If I recall correctly, Wood even offered to take a cut in his page-rate. Carmine declined. I assume DC sought a continuity of the “Marvel Style”, in Colletta. Plus, garrulous Vinnie was always “there,” in the DC office. Woody was withdrawn, almost a hermit and, probably unfairly, not always considered reliable with deadlines.”

This would allow New York the final say as to what was published. . DC’s brass wanted Kirby to take over an ongoing series so that Kirby’s magic might be quickly integrated with the DC Universe. Kirby’s response was to ask for a series without a steady artist so that he wouldn’t deprive a fellow artist of work. This was resolved when the artist on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was assigned to another strip. Kirby had pleaded with Carmine to create a series of books based on his concepts, and guided by Kirby, but drawn by various artists such as Don Heck, John Romita and Steve Ditko. Carmine had hired Kirby so that Kirby’s art would be seen under the DC brand. Carmine, probably considering the additional cost of more artists quickly put the kibosh on that idea. It was decided that Kirby’s new concepts would be broken into four separate but interconnected series, drawn and written by Kirby and published bi-monthly.

Jack was ready to start up at DC Comics, but some house cleaning first had to be done, When Carmine Infantino announced to DC’s editorial staff that Jack Kirby was joining their ranks, the response was not all positive. Here’s Carmine’s recollection;

“I inform Mort Weisinger he has a new artist/writer on JIMMY OLSEN and it’s Jack Kirby. Well, the fact that I just acquired Marvel’s hottest talent didn’t impress him. All he could think about was that Kirby had sued his friend Schiff, and that Kirby should still be blacklisted from DC. Mort went to Irwin Donenfeld to complain. Donenfeld called me in and I really had to go to bat for Jack. I told Donenfeld I wasn’t interested in personality problems; I was only interested in business. Donenfeld said okay and that was the end of the discussion”.

With that distraction out of the way they now had to decide just what Kirby would do.

shape of things to come

DC’s publicity dept. went into overdrive. In large bold heading’s the phrase KIRBY IS COMING adorned their regular books for months. No mention of the new titles, just the name to build up the suspense or sometimes just a premise. The uninitiated probably thought Kirby was a new character being introduced, but those in the know had no doubts what was coming. Kirby had become a brand unto himself, no “and Simon or Lee” to share the credits and accolades. Kirby’s newfound solo status also meant that Kirby was now responsible for all facets–no Joe Simon to help rein in Kirby’s intensity and wildness, and no Stan Lee to wrap Kirby’s concepts in pithy dialogue and pop sensibilities. For good or worse, the public would now see pure unadulterated Jack Kirby. Autuerism was forced on Jack.

Jon B. Cooke, a noted Kirby expert put it mildly:

“What is important is that Kirby arrived at DC Comics with guns a’blazin’, his imagination unleashed as never before. If we thought his mid-Fantastic Four run was fertile — and it was one of the most creatively productive eras in comics history — we were still unprepared for the awe that was yet to come… Darkseid, Super-War, the Anti-Life Equation, Infinity Man, Scott Free, Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, the Pact, Himon, Bug, Kalibak, Glory Boat…”

To which, I would add, Whiz Wagon, DNAliens, Intergang, Dubbilex, and Bugs, ad infinitum.
Over at Marvel, Stan Lee wasn’t taking Kirby’s defection quietly. Kirby’s penchant for leaving lots of inventory meant that Marvel would have Kirby stories to print for at least 5-6 months. It would be several months before new artists would be needed for the Fantastic Four, and Thor. Plus Kirby had drawn the first couple stories for new series featuring The Inhumans, and Kazar, several horror stories for the horror anthologies, and the last Silver Surfer issue. In fact, Fantastic Four #102 was the last Marvel story drawn by Kirby and it wouldn’t see publication for 5 months. Fantastic Four #103 had been drawn by Kirby, but Stan reconfigured the whole story and it was printed at a later date with extra pages to connect the cut and pasted story. Martin Goodman had instituted a new round of reprint titles. Rare would be the months when Kirby’s new titles had a larger newsstand presence than Marvel’s reprint books meaning that the average reader would see more Kirby art by Marvel than by DC at the retail level. Right or wrong, Kirby was at war with himself. But it should be noted that Marvel’s sales started to plummet.

With the release of Jimmy Olsen #133 cover dated Oct. 1970 the readers got their first look at pure Kirby, and it didn’t disappoint. The cover let it be known this wasn’t your father’s Jimmy Olsen. There’s Jimmy riding a motorcycle with a bunch of hairy bikers and running over Superman while Jimmy’s yelling “RUN HIM DOWN! Superman was so important that he was featured front and center on almost all Olsen covers. Kirby’s name proudly displayed at the top of the covers. On the first page, Kirby let the reader know that his past and future are one. We get Jimmy walking into a secret garage amazed to meet the famous 1940’s era Newsboy Legion who are working on a huge souped up vehicle. Now it turns out these are the children of the original Newsboy Legion, but it’s obvious the Kirby was bringing the wacky with him. Could the Guardian be far behind? No. in a burst of creativity one of the underground research facilities was perfecting cloning, and the first person cloned was none other than policeman Jim Harper, with a slightly larger moniker.

Kirby begins in the past

He wears flippers why????

Perhaps more interesting is that Jack added in a new member to the Newsboy Legion. In a time well known for inclusionary actions—such as every sitcom having at least one black character–Jack Kirby integrated his decades long group by adding in Walter Johnson, a young black kid as a full member. But Walter wasn’t quite ordinary, or playing with a full deck. He was obsessed with scuba diving and deep sea exploration to the point that he dressed-even on dry land– in an outlandish scuba diving outfit, huge flippers and a large mask perched on his head–and went by the nickname of Flipper Dipper. (Flippa Dippa) What Jack did was take that outlandish picture of Cleavon Little in the play Scuba Duba, and retrofit it into a crazy young boy working and playing with the Newsboy Legion. Jack never seemed to throw away a visually arresting idea. I have never really understood just what role Jack expected for the new character as he was never a lead character in the story arcs. He remained just a filler character meant to show tolerance and inclusion rather than a full-bodied A-list part of the group.

Flippa Dippa at work, He didn’t do much, but he did it well except explosives expert

I think the same can be said for all the other black characters found in the Fourth World. Vykin-the Black, Shiloh and even the Black Racer never had roles or even story arcs that played up their “blackness”, yet I don’t feel them as tokens. They did their parts and participated in the tales. Flippa was never all that important, but he was as important as Big Words, or Tommy. Scrapper seems to have been the only real standout in the Newsboy Legion. Perhaps it is to Kirby’s credit that he never made their blackness a part of the series. They were accepted as equals –though minor- by everyone. To Kirby black characters were as normal as Asian (Sonny Sumo) Indian (Wyatt Wingfoot) dwarfs (Oberon) or any other minority, yet he never made a spectacle or pointed fingers at their differences. They had become just another element to his tableau, a little color perhaps, but regular Joe’s. The face of villainy was all its own. He was an indifferent species-neither black nor white, Eastern or Western, evil stood alone, just hard and nasty. Jack did make an important issue of race, and prejudice, but it was at the expense of a totally new race living on New Genesis called “the Bugs” and kept down by the supposedly superior race of super-beings led by Highfather. –Kirby’s nod to the curse of America. For the rest of Jack’s career, he managed to always fit in black characters into his bigger stories. From the Falcon, to Black Panther, Big Masai, and Major Klavus, Jack’s world was multi-cultural. (of course one could say it was multi-special also as he used many anthropomorphic characters as well)

Starts out with a bang and a laugh

Oh relevancy!!! Has ever a good word been so abused in mainstream media? Whenever journalists, or reporters try to explain the evolution of comics they always spout that the newer comics have become relevant—a reflection of the more complicated ways of real life, and acknowledging the dirty underbelly. It’s not that they are wrong, but they always back up their assumptions by pointing out mega-steroidal hulks or hyper-pneumatic women that fly and are invulnerable, while wearing underwear and cut-out tops. As if that’s reality. On May 2, 1971 an article appeared in the prestigious New Yorker magazine dealing with the new depth and relevancy of comic books, written by Saul Braun. While spotlighting a harrowing Joe Kubert-drawn Sgt. Rock story and Stan Lee’s battle with the censor board for a Spider-Man arc, and O’Neill’s and Adams’ Green Lantern/Green Arrow tales, it also interviews Jack and talks about the New Gods. The article was poorly titled “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant.” I think Jack liked the spotlight, but Jack wasn’t overwhelmed with comics taking on deep problems. He thought they lacked the space and timing to do it right. Graphic Novels were not around yet.

A decision was made to introduce Kirby’s new series in Showcase Comics. Cover artwork was even readied. Kirby objected because it would make it seem like this was a try out series, rather than a 100% full confidence project. Carmine relented. Kirby began unleashing his new books from scratch, rather than an insert in an existing series. The early issues of Jimmy Olsen would introduce Jack’s larger tableau. It seems that Jimmy has uncovered evidence of Earth becoming a pawn in a larger war between two distant worlds. Jimmy and the Legion and the Guardian would take the fight to aliens working underground to sabotage the world. In the background running the show was the ominous Darkseid (dark-side) from the planet Apokolips, who was infiltrating Earth to

Stan in full hairsuit regalia – shades of My Lai a year earlier

find what he called the anti-life equation. With this formula, he was hoping to be able to enslave the universe with its mind control ability. As a subplot Jimmy has uncovered a secret military research base which is working on top secret projects alongside aliens and other assorted weirdoes. Jimmy Olsen threw out more concepts per page than any other comic in history. Kirby’s mind was in overload and Kirby’s kitchen sink attitude made for an amazing journey. Don Rickles the legendary insult comedian even made a cameo appearance. Jack must have been laughing his tuckus off while drawing this series, and we were the hockey pucks.

A video world pre-MTV

Trouble arose almost immediately, when the DC office received the first Jimmy Olsen pages someone remarked that the faces of Superman and Jimmy looked like Jack Kirby drew them and this wouldn’t do. The public was used to seeing Supes and Jimmy in a certain manner and that couldn’t change. Their first idea was to have Vinnie Colletta, the inker make them on model, but were dissatisfied with his version so they had longtime regular Al Plastino redraw the figures. Thereafter others like Murphy Anderson or even Neal Adams would make the corrections. Jack was furious, why hire him if they don’t want him to do his style. But this wasn’t aimed specifically at Jack; other DC artists had their figures changed for the same reason–to keep a character on model. While at Marvel, Stan had Wally Wood draw the Daredevil figures in an issue of Fantastic Four, and Jim Steranko drew Nick Fury’s head in a Captain America issue. John Romita would often ghost Spider-man in issues he was guesting in. Though the practice was accepted as standard procedure, Jack didn’t like it. With hindsight it doesn’t appear that Kirby’s version were way off line, the characters seem perfectly identifiable, but image was everything back then and Kirby had to accept it. To the readers it must have seemed strange with Kirby’s hard bulky forceful images next to the soft, cheeky old style Superman. Jack learned early that a change in location didn’t mean an end to outside editorial interference. It should also be mentioned that DC expanded the Fourth World into Lois Lane’s series.

The first new series to hit the stands were New Gods, and The Forever People, followed a month later by Mister Miracle. All played important roles in fleshing out the cosmic war that was taking place, but each came from a different angle. The New Gods represented the frontal, direct battle between the two worlds that chose Earth as its battlefield. The New Gods starred the dark brooding Orion, raised on the peaceful world of New Genesis, but tasked by their leader Highfather with the fearful role of the warrior who must take the fight directly to Darkseid.

Forever People #1 redrawn Superman – Carmine Infantino editor

But Orion lives a secret that will affect everything. Orion is of two natures, the gentle scion of New Genesis, and a horrible unmanageable beast given to berserker type rages while in battle. This dichotomy is controlled by his “mother box”; a small computer like machine that becomes literally a part and presence with the person who owns it. Orion is often partnered up with the personable Lightray whose bright personality stands in stark contrast to Orion’s dark warlike traits.

The Forever People were a group of young kids who decided that they wanted to sit this war out. They decided to stay above the fray much like a large sector of American youth decided to sit the Viet Nam War out. But unfortunately, Darkseid wouldn’t let them. The series also featured what I thought was a huge contradiction. These children of peaceful coexistence could meld into a singular entity with a bad disposition and ass kicking attitude. It always seemed silly to on the one hand to show conscientious dissenters suddenly morph into a militaristic personality to wrap up the villains. Was this secretly Jack saying that peaceful methods don’t work, and brute force will always trump evil when peace fails? Interestingly, this character The Infinity Man disappeared after just a few issues. Jack did have plans for this group, but I think he lost his way.

Mister Miracle Lightray and Big Barda round out the New Gods
“I had a black man, Vykin the Black and he was part of the epic. I filled it with the people of the Sixties, and I called them the Forever People, because they seemed like Forever People to me. They were a new step, a new social event in the epic of America. The Forever People were the young people of their time; beautiful, active, highly intelligent and wonderful material for stories, I used the young people of the times; the times themselves became the backdrop of my stories.”

It seemed that one of the kids, Beautiful Dreamer, had a connection to the anti-life formula and Darkseid wanted it. Chasing Darkseid and Beautiful Dreamer to Earth, the group makes a rude and noisy landing that attracts the attention of Darkseid’s minions, plus those of Jimmy Olsen and Superman. Superman catches up to the group just as Darkseid’s underlings attack the group.

Aid comes with the help of Superman and a guardian entity that is formed when the group members touch a mother box and call out “TARRU” This entity known as the Infinity Man is stronger even than Superman and he easily dispatches the villainous monsters. Yet Superman has caught a glimpse through a Boom Tube of a far off world known as Supertown, and wonders if he has a past connection with it.

Kirbytech borders – a happy group

When he requests a doorway to Supertown the kids try to talk him out of going, they tell him that the coming battle will be on Earth and he is needed there. Yet he is determined to go. So the group opens a “boom tube” –a portal across dimensions and Superman enters, but as he nears his destination his doubts take over and he realizes that he can’t abandon Earth, and he returns. Jack’s Superman was one of doubt, and questions. He was sort of a stranger in his own land. He was truly an alien in search of his own history. This short synopsis can’t even begin to relate all the crazy concepts that Jack packed into these stories, but they were never ending and breath taking. All these characters from the two warring worlds had super powers. Despite their attempts at pacifistic avoidance of the war, the Forever People were constantly drawn in and forced to choose sides.

The third book, Mister Miracle revolves around one Scott Free. Born in freedom, yet raised in Apokoliptian slavery, he dreams of escaping from that horror world to a place he can live in peace. This book mirrors the many refugees from Communist countries who faced death to escape to the West. The book opens with Scott actually escaping to Earth, where he meets up with an itinerant entertainer who magically escapes from imprisonments of all kinds. Much like Harry Houdini, this man challenges death daily, and miraculously escapes. But Darkseid is never happy about losing a disciple and he continually attempts to trap Scott Free and return him to Apokolips. When the elderly magician is killed, Scott Free takes up the mantle of Mister Miracle the great escape artist and using his “mother box” he starts his own show where he escapes from the most mind dazzling collection of death dealing devises ever seen, while also escaping from the crazy traps that Darkseid and his underlings set for him.

Steranko – man of many talents

It was not a coincidence that this character was inspired by young Jim Steranko who once had a stage show where he escaped from manacles, and chains and other imprisonments. In a private New York dinner, Jack teased Jim Steranko about what he had started. A surprised Steranko was shocked when a DC editor showed him the proofs of Mister Miracle and informed Jim that Scott Free was indeed Jim Steranko.

“Mister Miracle would have to join Orion in his battle to forever rid themselves of Darkseid in some way.” “Oddly enough, it was Darkseid, the most evil of the characters that brought the others together. It was Darkseid’s dealings with all of them that became the manner in which I could demonstrate how we all deal with evil. I made it as realistic as possible, and the reader could identify with the characters. The book itself blossomed into many others, and became an epic in itself for years.” Good guys usually triumph over bad guys. Bad guys, no matter how clever they are, operate outside our laws. Sooner or later, they must make a mistake that will bring them in contention with that law, and then they will fail.” Jack told an interviewer.

Jack Kirby’s Ricky and Lucy – It wasn’t always love and roses

The four books intersected, but rarely connected directly, the main connections were that Darkseid was the common villain and the search for the anti-life equation concerned them all. There was never anything like this done prior to Kirby’s effort. Kirby had a vision for this series as having a definite conclusion rather than an on-going endless series of books. There would be a reckoning. More important, Jack had added passion and justification to his palette.

Rock hard and nasty – fully articulated

Just after Kirby started the Fourth World series, his son Neal graduated from Syracuse with a Business Degree. He moved back to California and brought with him his young wife. Neal and Steve and Mark hit it off immediately. After the debacle at Marvelmania had ended, they were still excited about the possibility of marketing items relating to Jack’s art. Over the dinner table they decided on putting together a portfolio of Jack’s art through the years, plus add in a simple biography. The result was Kirby Unleashed. It featured many examples of Jack’s early art, most of which had never been seen by the public before. Plus it had rejected pages, and production pages from recent series, and a preview of Jack’s new New Gods books. With a biography by Mark Evanier, and the graphic work by Steve Sherman.

Neal did the marketing under the business name Communicators Unlimited. It was a well packaged product that did well at first, and eventually made a little money. It wasn’t perfect, there are mistakes in the bio, and the art choices are questionable at times, but it is and was a great introductory item to the world of Jack Kirby.

They followed this up with another portfolio called The Gods, which represented the Norse Gods in a different way than the Marvel versions. These were inked by Don Heck and colored by Jack. Jack mistakenly claimed credit for inking when he misunderstood a question by Greg Theakston and confused inking with the coloring—since the colors are calle